Devil's Candy
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The Devil's Candy

Anyone that has spent a few decades watching movies will inevitably encounter a few preconceived notions based on such details as posters, trailers and cover art. I try my best to hold myself above such generalities but being only human; a few have managed to take hold. Prominent among these concerns horror flick. Each year I receive many screeners and preview copies of DVDs and Blu-rays about to be released. As the autumnal leaves begin to fall, the number of horror movies significantly Increase for the Halloween push of new horror flicks. h. In most of the cases, those movies are less than cinematic masterpieces; most are barely up to the standards of grindhouse, midnight showings. My table is with movies dependent on cheap, grossly visceral effects descended do to the bane of horror movie fan, torture porn such as ‘Saw’ or ‘Hostel.' When I opened one package, there was a Blu-ray screener for ‘Devil’s Candy.' Expecting another truly dismal experience I started watching and to my pleasant surprise it was one of the best films I have seen in a while, not just within the genre but overall, the movie possessed a coherent, well-crafted story, tightly directed with stellar performances. When I finished, I found myself watching again just for the enjoyment of it. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, as here, it is truly something special. The film hides its noteworthy quality in plain sight, disguising the details such as archetypes and frequently encountered circumstances abounding. Like a great chef, a masterpiece comes from the ingredients but rather the creativity of the craftsman. Sean Byrne, is relatively new to filmmaking but he is making quite an impact. This movie is his sophomore outing with a feature-length film. his previous opus, ‘The Lonely Ones’, was another instance of a horror film that handily soared above expectations. Mr. Byrne is rapidly establishing himself as a groundbreaking director/screenwriter. I am certain that very soon the best actors, editors, cinematographers and other artistic stalwarts will be vying to be involved in one of his projects.

Retaining the tropes common to a horror movie, the prologue. Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince), is shown by himself in a remote house. When he begins to hear voices, his response is to pick up his Gibson Flying V electric guitar, pushing the volume to the maximum. Enhancing the creepy factor Ray is pounding out his chords in front of a crucifix. His music comes to an unexpected and abrupt stop as his mother enters the room unplugging the instrument. He tries to explain that he needs the loud sound to drown out "Him," the source of the internal voices. The voices must have perceived Mother’s interference as highly inappropriate leaving only one option; the voices urge Ray to kill his mother. She is seen crumpled at the bottom of the stairs later discovered by a man entering the house. Jumping to the present where wannabe artist, Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry) has just closed on the property. The usual theme for his painting is typically dark and nightmarish. While driving to the house with his wife, Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and their daughter, Zooey (Kiara Glasco). Demonstrating the skillful way Mr. Byrne can twist the deployment of the overly visited horror standards we first encounter his family in the car driving to see the property. Jesses are blasting metal rock, bobbing his head in time to the guttural sounds. Astrid sits smiling as Zooey joins her father in the headbanging revelry. This shows the audience that despite Jesse’s taste in artwork and music is a relatable husband and father who wholeheartedly loves his family; this is reinforced when it becomes necessary to supplement Astrid’s income by producing commercially marketable paints, the most recent featuring Butterflies. The effect that is achieved is to create a commonality between the audience, and a man who means of artistic expression is macabre paintings whose preferred music tends towards indecipherable grunts over blaring atonal screeching guitars. Jesses love his wife and daughter and are willing to undermine his artistic vision to provide for their emotional and material needs. Like the film, Jesse is proof you cannot always judge a book by its cover.

Superficially, the story continues predictably as Jesse and his family begin to move into their new home. Meanwhile, Ray is back, living in a motel still pounding on his V neck guitar while listening to tapes of satanic preaching, he only stops when the police knock on his door with noise reports. Jesse begins to hear disturbing voices inspiring him to return to his old artistic motif this time featuring a dark inverted cross. Undaunted by the fact that this painting is not commercially viable, he attempts to offer it to an ante-guard art gallery, the gallery had previously reject his work. He does manage to get a photo of his latest paintings the inverted cross, to the receptionist who in turn bring it to the owner, Leonard (Tony Amendola), who is interested in Jesse’s new work. It takes a special twist on genius to accomplish what Mr. Byrne has done here. You set up things to convince the audience that this was just another run-of-the-mill movie, but then ingeniously coaxed incredible performances out of his cast while displaying a technical brilliance in his direction and screenplay. One incredible benefit of this technique is that during the time of the setting up the façade of a mundane horror flick, he is laying the groundwork for the audience to form solid emotional bonds with the characters. While this is needed in any genre, and how it is particularly important since the view was having to be able to put themselves in the place of the characters. The danger in torment that they feel but be palatable to the audience. This is particularly difficult when the protagonists is a heavily tattooed metalhead with a penchant for exceptionally dark artwork.

It’s been about a year since Mr. Byrne’s last film, ‘The Lonely Ones’, it is obvious that he has been spending a great deal of time and effort in the creation of this movie. His attention to detail is commendable demonstrating that he is not the type of new auteur that he is obliged to release new movies in rapid succession. This seems to be a problem in the horror genre where you tend to see the same names in the credits as director, screenwriter or producer. Mr. Byrne has shown that he is someone who truly cares about the quality of his work taking a master craftsman’s pride in his artistic expression through cinema. The vast majority of current horror films the special effects are deployed with the sole purpose of forcing revolting images of carnage to the eyes of the viewers. This filmmaker has found a way to stylize his bloodshed and mayhem in such a fashion that there is an oddly beautiful stylistic foundation supporting his scenes of terror. There is a pervasive intelligence interwoven within every aspect of this movie. Of all the noteworthy attributes of this movie is this one that is drawing me back to experience the movie over again. It is easy for a director to make a movie that is revolting. Most anyone with access to a modest budget in a week or so off the principal photography can put together a zombie or slasher movie that will almost certainly earn a profit. What has been missing from the horror genre for quite a long time as a director/screenwriter who truly cares about the story he is presenting to the audience. Someone who recognizes the finished product as representing his artistic vision while showcasing his intrinsic talent or of any story effectively. I can understand why it might be necessary, but I truly hope that we do not have to wait about eight years for his next project.

Posted 11/24/2017

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