'The Devil's Candy' visually lush, but short on script

 
 
Updated 4/27/2017 6:02 AM
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  • A heavy metal enthusiast and artist (Ethan Embry) paints disturbing pictures without remembering how he did them in Sean Byrne's tale of satanic possession, "The Devil's Candy."

    A heavy metal enthusiast and artist (Ethan Embry) paints disturbing pictures without remembering how he did them in Sean Byrne's tale of satanic possession, "The Devil's Candy."

With long tresses and a wiry beard, Ethan Embry's heavy-metal-loving painter Jesse Hellman resembles a blue-eyed Jesus Christ.

But his last name hints at something else. Halfway through Sean Byrne's trippy tale of demonic possession "The Devil's Candy," he looks more and more like Charles Manson, gleefully churning out horrific depictions of pain and suffering under a satanic muse.

At the story's core rests a father's ultimate nightmare, that he cannot defend his family from harm, or even worse, that he might be the source of that harm.

Byrne's visually spellbinding tale (red paint drizzled on a white canvas morphs into blood washing down a white drain!) takes this cue from such films as "The Shining" and "The Amityville Horror."

The Tasmanian-born Byrne, directing and writing his second horror film after his twisted prom tale "The Loved Ones," creates strong characters but has a bad habit of ducking into narrative dark alleys that wind up dead ends.

And do we really need a television evangelist to explain how Satan misleads us and "uses us to carry out his unspeakable deeds"?

Jesse, his nondescript wife, Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and their goth daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) move into their first house in the middle of Nowhere, Texas. They got the place cheap because the previous occupants died. She fell down the stairs; he couldn't live without her.

But we know the truth, having seen the opening to "The Devil's Candy" in which an unhinged heavy metal guitar player named Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince) succumbs to the garbled voices in his head and kills his parents -- as the crucifix on his bedroom wall spins and stops upside down.

Ray, as we discover, spent time in an institution after sacrificing a girl to Satan.

"I have to feed him children!" Ray sobs later in the story. "They are his candy!"

Ray gets it in his head (along with the satanic voices) to make Zooey his candy girl.

Meanwhile, Jesse, who apparently can't afford shirts, begins blanking out at the canvas, never remembering how he creates such "wonderfully disturbing" artwork involving tormented children.

The "wonderfully disturbing" description comes from an art dealer named Leonard (Tony Amendola), who, along with his slithery receptionist with red eyelids, seems to be in cahoots with dark forces.

Byrne suggests Satan uses the arts as weapons against humanity, through music (those demonic voices sound like heavy metal guys gargling fish hooks) and dark paintings. But he fails to capitalize on the narrative seeds he plants.

When Jesse three times denies Leonard's offer of "blood of the earth" wine, the creepy art dealer taunts him for his "sacrifice."

Jesse's name may not be Jesus, but close enough for us to see the tormented artist in a more religious light that, as it turns out, illuminates little.

"The Devil's Candy" settles for a standard-issue hellfire finale, one that obliterates what tattered credibility remains in Byrne's story.

(Note: Spoiler alert ahead!)

Jesse makes no sacrifice, but performs a humdinger of a resurrection after being shot twice by what appears to be a military-grade 9 mm pistol, then inexplicably exhibits the energy and physicality of Spider-Man.

(Note: Spoiler alert lifted.)

Vince plays his disturbed demonic henchman with prickly relish, but the chameleonic Embry (remember him as the bass player in "That Thing You Do"?) carries the movie with his empathetic portrait of a loving dad who incrementally devolves into a gaunt, haunted figure.

Who needs a shirt.

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