Friday, March 17, 2017

The Devil’s Candy: Play it Loud

Jesse Hellman would like to be the next Derek Riggs. He certainly has the name for it. Unfortunately, there is not much demand for heavy metal art in East Jesus, Texas. However, he is about to get some sinister inspiration. You could almost say it is like he’s possessed. That is pretty much the case for Ray Smilie, a fellow metalhead who killed his parents in the Hellman’s new, suspiciously affordable home, not so very long ago. Maybe heavy metal lyrics and album covers are more accurate than we realized, if we judge from the Hellmans’ experiences in Sean Byrnes’ The Devil’s Candy (trailer here), which opens tonight in New York, at the IFC Center.

Smilie likes to play loud, because it drowns out the voices. When he is forced to listen, he is compelled to do terrible things, like murder his mother. Apparently, his distraught father committed suicide shortly thereafter. Somehow the system lost track of their grown son with a history of mental illness, but the Smilie’s house was duly liquidated.

Jesse and Astrid Hellman were legally notified of the house’s notorious history, but they were not really paying attention. They were distracted by the fire sale price. However, when the highly-agitated Smilie starts coming around, they finally start to focus. Of course, the imposing Ray takes a liking to their daughter Zooey, because she is a metalhead, like her dad. He even wants to give her his flying V, which makes her parents extremely uncomfortable. At least Hellman’s painting is going well—actually too well. He has started losing time while painting, as if in a trance. When his latest piece reveals itself to be a portrait of Zooey and several other children in Hell, Astrid really starts to freak—and so does he.

Unlike the comedic carnage of the similarly metal-themed Deathgasm, Candy is a moody, atmospheric pressure cooker of a horror film. You would even call it quiet, were it not for the eye-drum shredding soundtrack. Nevertheless, Byrne takes viewers to some dark corners of the soul, as well as some lonesome stretches of Nowheresville, Texas. He maintains a tight command over mood an mise-en-scene, doing justice to the venerable tradition of demonic horror.

The unrecognizable Ethan Embry and Kiarra Glasco develop some surprisingly touching father-daughter rapport together. It is also inpressive how thoroughly Embry commits as Hellman the head-banger, bulking up and grunging out. Yet, it is Pruitt Taylor Vince who really creeps us out as the totally messed up Smilie.

There is no question the gleefully chaotic Deathgasm is more fun, but Candy is a much more stylish work of cinema. If forced to choose, we would lean towards the former, but happily, there is no need to opt for one over the other. Recommended for fans of horror and metal, The Devil’s Candy opens tonight (3/17), after midnight, at the IFC Center.