No, that’s not Immortan Joe in the picture above – it’s jacked-as-hell Ethan Embry painting while being overtaken by satanic influence in his new thriller, The Devil’s Candy. He delivers a powerhouse performance as a father who unlocks an inner demon upon moving into a new home, but Embry’s latest film brings even more clout with the return of director Sean Byrne, who has been quiet since 2009’s The Loved Ones – and what a return it is.
The Devil’s Candy is all about seething, brooding tension, as Byrne builds a demonic story that’s begging to explode in a fiery fury of hellish horrors and heavy metal, but its restraint is even more impressive. The Devil’s Candy is one of those horror films that grips you by the throat and enjoys watching you squirm, dragging you down into a depths of Hell as Metallica riffs usher you in. So, yeah – it totally ‘effing rules.
Embry plays Jesse Hellman, a passionate metal-head and loving family man. He’s a painter by trade, but in order to afford something bigger than his boxy apartment, he’s watched his career turn from personal expressionism into butterfly-based commission pieces. Jesse is realistic though, and happily takes these middling requests so his daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) and wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) live the comfortable life they deserve. But we all know creative jobs don’t pay that well, so Jesse closes on a discounted house with a dark past – more sinister than the dead husband and wife that were reported. As Jesse settles into his new home (complete with a separate studio), a voice begins to play in his head, sending him into creative blackouts that result in his most brilliant, and disturbing, works yet. Then Jesse meets Ray, and true evil takes form.
The not-so-mysterious Ray is played by Pruitt Taylor Vince, and he comes barreling in as the film’s villainous force. Dressed in a bright-red jumpsuit that’s always cleanly pressed, his parents were the previous owners of Jesse’s house – you know, the deceased ones. It turns out that Ray has been hearing the same voices that currently haunt Jesse, except they make him do “bad things.” He doesn’t want to do the “bad things,” so he strums rhythmic bar-chords on his candy-red Flying V to combat the hypnotic drone chanting transmitted from the Devil’s own frequencies (provided by doom metal band, Sunn O))))). Jesse may be the film’s central protagonist, but Pruitt Taylor Vince’s performance as Ray is, as it should be, tremendously disturbing – yet sympathetically innocent, as well.
Music plays a commanding role in The Devil’s Candy, from the constant hum provided by Sunn O)))), to the licensing of tracks by Slayer and Metallica. When “For Whom The Bell Tolls” kicks on right as the credits begin, you want to throw your horns up in a fit of head-banging triumph, because metal music is the true hero here. Ray uses sonic blasts of crunchy brutality to ward off the Devil’s hum, and it’s Jesse’s love of metal that creates an unbreakable bond with his daughter. More times than not, metal represents something dark – the resurrection of all that is unholy, if you will – but it becomes the pulsating lifeblood that flows through all that’s good in The Devil’s Candy, capped by a picturesque guitar-smash delivered by an enraged Ethan Embry at the most opportune of moments.
While we’re talking about Ethan Embry, can I just say how happy I am that he’s focusing more on crazy genre rolls? Cheap Thrills kick-started a frenzied resurgence of Embry’s career, furthered by appearances in titles such as Late Phases and The Guest, but The Devil’s Candy is the volcanic eruption of talent that Embry has been building towards. Whether he’s intently painting or viciously protecting his family, Embry’s intensity continually peeks from behind scraggly strands of sweat-drenched hair. His shirt reads “Find What You Love And Let It Kill You,” and Embry’s slow descent into fret-shredding madness captures a tremendous genre performance from an actor who deserves every ounce of praise that will surely be coming his way.
Don’t get me wrong, Kiara Glasco plays a scared, badass, Metallica-tee wearing child with surprising maturity, and Shiri Appleby rounds out the family with a strong motherly nature, but Embry is the embodiment of a metal warrior with no sympathy for the Devil. So strong, so tortured, and to quote Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm, “BRUTAL AS F#CK.”
Give Byrne all the credit in the world, because The Devil’s Candy proves he’s no one-hit wonder. It’s a home invasion film with blackened character, and also a haunted house flick with pulsating musical energy. Byrne remains on a killer’s path in focus, but once a final struggle ensues when Ray returns home, the film recreates Hell through entrancing rings of fire and that same raging metal soundtrack. Cinematically, these shots are so ‘effing beautiful in the most invigorating of horror sensibilities, and showcase what Byrne is capable of achieving as a filmmaker. Byrne is an artist, and just like the damning paintings that Jesse dreams up, his works are unique gems that beg for the appreciation of wider audiences.
The Devil’s Candy is quite a freakin’ dandy, and doesn’t sully Sean Byrne’s highly anticipated return to horror. He didn’t go anywhere, but after The Loved Ones was left out to dry by unfortunate studio happenings, Byrne’s phone wasn’t ringing as it should have been. Well, after people watch The Devil’s Candy, Sean Byrne better get an assistant for all the calls he deserves, because if I have to wait another six years for this Tasmanian Devil’s next cinematic treat, there’s no telling what the voices in my head will tell me to do.
See this movie, live the fear, embrace the metal, and get sucked into a flaming, invigorating landscape of Hell that will cripple any horror-loving parent.
The Devil's Candy is a head-banging trip into parental Hell, but more importantly, it proves that Sean Byrne is MUCH more than a one-hit wonder - as many of us already knew.