Six long years after his impressive debut feature The Loved Ones bowed at Midnight Madness at TIFF, Australian writer-director Sean Byrne is back in the same slot – only this time with supernatural horror awash with heavy metal. While The Loved Ones offered out-of-the-box dark humour – boasting a psychotic, would-be prom queen protagonist wielding a power drill, no less – this sophomore outing from Byrne feels less developed and somewhat formulaic.
The story’s focus lies on a metal-head artist named Jessie (Ethan Embry), whose corporate commissions become transformed when he and his young family move into a cut-price (and haunted) house. With his long-suffering wife (Shiri Appleby) and gothic daughter (Kiara Glasco) indulging him, Jessie paints up a grim storm in his new work space.
Not far away, the house’s former tenant, oddball Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), is stewing over his mental unease in a nearby motel. Police tell him to keep the noise down – for comfort, he plays a Flying V through a Marshall amp at night! By day, he evidently kidnaps kids, for the devil’s pleasure. Naturally, Jessie’s family is soon on his hit list, as Ray craves his old family pile.
Byrne’s grasp of unease remains potent throughout this brief but barmy outing. Casting is spot on (Vince has the lion’s gold). The tiny town in Texas where it was shot feels suitably chilly. Even the cops don’t seem quite all there, in a Lynchian sort of way.
Despite this, the action unfolds in uneven terms. Jessie’s transformation into possessed artist is slight. His daughter’s school bullying is never glimpsed. Ray’s release back into the world after 20 years in psychiatric care goes unnoticed by local police, and several kids going missing. For good measure, Ray’s also constantly dressed in a bright red, ill-fitting jogging suit. Still, he goes undetected.
On a positive note, the heavy metal motifs that feature throughout feel authentic and refreshing. Costume and production design is convincing. Music comes courtesy of Metallica and Slayer, among others.
While The Devil’s Candy isn’t anywhere near the game-changer it might have been – and coming after The Loved Ones, one would have expected something of that ilk – it’s still entertaining enough, with some memorable sequences (and ideas) that are worth exploring on VOD.