While “The Devil’s Candy” falls just short of being a perfect treat, it’s still extremely satisfying and well worth indulging in.
There are conspiracies that point to human sacrifice for the sake of climbing the ladder to success. It’s an interesting concept. Finger pointing on this ranges from actors, musicians, politicians, and even artists—in particular, painters. It’s never about having talent with these conspiracies; it’s about making a deal with the Devil. Give him something willingly, and he will exchange it for success.
What’s the Devil want? Our children, or as the film likes to call them, “Devil’s Candy.” Can a topic this gruesome be made into an interesting and entertaining film? Sure. There is no subject too taboo for me that can’t be spun into an entertaining film, and The Devil’s Candy did just that; it entertained. If only a moral to the story existed.
The Devil’s Candy begins with murder. A large, mentally handicapped man named Ray lies restless in bed. He gets up, plugs in his electric guitar, cranks the amp, and begins wailing on chords. His mother interrupts and pulls the plug. “I play it loud so I can’t hear him,” he says to her. This throws up suspicion that Ray is schizophrenic, which by the looks of him in his red jumpsuit could be true (he looks the part), but I suspect the voice he hears is real, as does the audience.
The mother threatens to have Ray sent away again because she can no longer handle his weirdness and guitar wailing into the night. Soon enough, mother is dead, and Ray is back off to the hospital.
It’s from here, we jump ahead and meet Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry), a struggling artist with his loving wife and daughter. Jesse is a painter, filling his canvas with butterflies in hopes for some income. This doesn’t jive with Jesse (him and his family are proud heavy-metal heads). He even states, “Painting butterflies for a bank makes me wanna puke.” But Jesse has bills to pay, and on top of it all, his family has just purchased Ray’s farmhouse from the opening scene (for a bargain, of course). With a loving family by his side, Jesse’s family moves in, and they are settled in no time.
Soon enough, Ray shows back up at the farmhouse, fresh out of the asylum and still with his guitar, which he leaves to the family’s daughter in one of the more touching scenes in the film. Ray pleads with the family to let him stay, claiming that the seclusion of the farmhouse will let him play it loud and drown out the voices. Of course, he is turned away, left to fend for himself without his guitar to drown out the voices, which remain relentless, even causing him to murder a child.
Back at the farmhouse, Jesse seems to have caught a sudden inspiration. It’s as if a dark muse has taken him over, and he paints some of his most grotesque works to date. Is this supposed to be the Devil lending a helping hand? I’m not sure, but it brings some of his most inspired paintings — even getting the attention of an art dealer who recognizes the evil inside the work, maybe even understanding where the inspiration came from. Jesse himself even claims that he doesn’t remember painting it, stating, “It flowed through me.”
It’s from here where I started to notice the plot slip, and these moves point to the biggest misstep in The Devil’s Candy.
Given opportunities to advance his art, Jesse never makes one bad choice along the way, morally, which is the entire point behind sacrificing to Satan for success. His family seems to be falling apart, but Jesse still does everything right; his love never falters.
For instance, he keeps appointments to pick up his daughter, but a flat tire causes him to be late. These things, much like his newly inspired art, just sort of happen to him. They simply are a convenience to the plot to make Jesse, in a word: look bad. He’s not bad. Just looks it. Because of this, the film seemed to lose its underlining concept along the way and just became another physical dilemma for our hero in the third act. The Devil’s Candy is not about choosing love for family over fame, it’s about whether or not Jesse can rescue someone in the nick of time.
We don’t even get the old speech about choices from the Devil himself. He just pulls strings here. And without choices, there are no moral dilemmas, and without moral dilemmas, there is no growth in the character of Jesse for us to root for.
The same with Ray, played fantastically by the wonderful Pruitt Taylor Vince, even if he was just a puppet for the plot.
He doesn’t want to kill, much like Jesse doesn’t want to ruin his family. But these things happen to him also. This lack of internal struggle or character development didn’t pull me out of the film much, but these underlining problems are definitely worth mentioning. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t.
If an inner struggle was more involved with Ray (much like diving into the inner demons of a character like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver), this film could have gone into the stratosphere. But unfortunately, Ray is only used as a weapon. A weapon whose story would have been far more interesting for us to follow. If a prequel is ever made, I hope Ray drives a taxi.
In short, The Devil’s Candy has come along at a time when the market has been saturated with flicks about Satan. Online streaming and independent filmmaking has caused a surge of these bandwagon movies, and most are unwatchable.
Does The Devil’s Candy stand apart from that pack? Absolutely.
It is a well-made, well-acted film, and directed with a professionalism that is lacking in many low budgets. If it wasn’t for the misstep in the protagonist’s lack of choices, the dodging of the overall conspiracy behind fame and fortune, and the short runtime, ‘The Devil’s Candy’ could have warranted a theatrical release with all the trimmings.
It rests somewhere between not good enough for a theatrical release and almost too good for Netflix, and that was good enough for me.