Music is a means of suggestion, a way for sensations, notes, voice and stereophonic sound to affect individual consciousness as a group. Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy uses heavy metal as a means to show how art can both divide and unify a family. The most impressive thing about this film is not the scares or the metal iconography. In that regard, this seems to be a mash up of a slasher film and the familiar Faust story. What makes this movie different and so much more enjoyable than the regular fare is the relationship between Jesse (Ethan Embry) and his daughter Astrid (Shiri Appleby), who play a father and daughter that are an oddity for any kind of movie, especially horror movies. With parent-child relationships in horror movies, you can’t help but think of Kubrick’s The Shining. While Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) menaces his young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) from the start, Jesse and Astrid have a loving relationship. Seldom in mainstream movies do you see a father daughter relationship that is anything save a perverse mix of the father’s ambivalence and hypocrisy. The father is usually like Jack Torrance, a powder keg ready to explode as the evil influence takes over. Yet Jesse and Zooey connect via music. Ray Smile is the opposite end. At the beginning of the movie Ray is awakened by whispering voices. Strapping on a Gibson flying ‘V he plays distorted power chords at maxim volume, the sound rattling the walls trying to blunt the demonic voices. Dispatching his sister when she threatens to send him back to the asylum, the movie kicks off with the distorted feedback of her body being discovered.
The plot concerns Jesse, Astrid, and Zooey, moving into the newly vacated house. Though the film takes a familiar route, offering the trope of a house as the sight of murder, sold to a family on the cheap, the house is not haunted in the ways of most haunted house movies. Jesses is a painter and sets up a studio and begins working at the house. The voices slowly infect Jesse causing him to paint demonic pictures, losing time as he becomes possessed with his work. As the demonic muse takes Jesse over his relationship with Zooey fractures. While Ray comes back to the house, posing a serious threat to Zooey’s safety, the fracturing of the family is the true menace. Jesse is mesmerized by the dark voices that inspire his paintings. Particularly horrifying is the instant where Jesse blacks out, waking to find he’s painted an inferno of suffering children with Zooey in the foreground, crying in pain. Much like Jack Torrance’s relationship to The Overlook Hotel, in order to live forever, Jesse must sacrifice Zooey. The Faustian devil is Leonard (Tony Amendola), an art dealer, who tempts Jesse with everything he’s ever wanted. Art becomes a double edged sword in the film, acting as a way to blunt human connection, emphasized by Ray numbing himself with power chords and Jesse’s trance like composition which threatens his relationship with Zooey.
Jesse does not give in to his dark ambitions. He destroys the painting of Zooey and fights for his family. The peril is different than any movie I’ve seen in recent years. There’s more at stake than the protagonist’ life. The destruction of the family, the dissolution of everything that connects the viewer with Jesse and Zooey gives weight to Ray’s assault on the family. While Ray calls children the devil’s candy, it is art, tantalizing and destructive, that opens a gateway to negation. When Jesse’s paintings support the family, when music acts as a way of establishing connection, art supports life. When Ray numbs himself with power chords, or when Jesse vanishes into the ghastly composition, life supports art. Losing yourself can be dangerous even when it is creating something beautiful. The Devil’s Candy like the unfortunate children murdered by Ray, lets us know that innocence can die when the world of the imagination is only populated with our worst selves.