It’s been eight years since Australian writer-director Sean Byrne won over horror buffs with his debut feature “The Loved Ones,” an instant classic in both the teen-splatter and backwoods freak-show sub-genres. Byrne’s belated follow-up “The Devil’s Candy” isn’t as grabby, but it’s just as smartly crafted, confirming “The Loved Ones” was no fluke.
Ethan Embry and Shiri Appleby costar as Jesse and Astrid Hellman, an artsy, metalhead couple raising their equally cool teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) in a big old country house they were able to buy cheaply because of its violent history.
Not long after they move in, Jesse starts going into trances, blacking out for hours and filling huge canvasses with demonic visions. Meanwhile, the house’s former owner Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), driven by the voices in his head, starts stalking Zooey.
At just under 80 minutes, “The Devil’s Candy” is too thin. By the time Byrne’s introduced all the pieces of its premise, the picture’s more than half-done.
What makes “The Devil’s Candy” a standout is how well-developed these characters are. This is ultimately a movie about parenting, and how even “hip” moms and dads fear the choices they make are hurting their young.
More importantly, Byrne is as skilled as ever at constructing sequences at once bizarre, suspenseful and oddly beautiful. In his cinematic universe, even something as simple as a pane of red glass or a heavy metal guitar riff can turn in an instant from innocuous to ominous.
‘The Devil’s Candy’
Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes.
Playing: Arena Cinelounge at the Montalban, Hollywood