Sunday into Monday at Fantastic Fest, I watched three back to back movies where the Devil was represented by a farm animal. First was the New England period piece, The Witch; second was a heavy metal possession movie called The Devil’s Candy; and third, a slow burn called February.
Two lived up to the name “Fantastic.” The other did not.
Let’s start with The Witch. Written and directed by first time filmmaker Robert Eggers, it’s set hundreds of years ago, soon after the English immigrated to America. A father is banished over his religious practices and moves his family out into the wilderness. Then, lots of terrible things start happening to the children and it continues to escalate from there.
First of all, it’s worth saying The Witch is great. From the language to the clothes and settings, it all feels incredibly authentic and grounded, which makes everything happening to these people even more terrifying. Then there’s the ultra important string of how important faith is to this family. That faith becomes both an asset and a liability as weirder and weirder things start to happen. Fascinating struggles with truth, pride, vanity and more are sprinkled about too, giving us even more to think about besides the titular villain.
Eggers moves the story at a meticulous, but steady pace, always winking at the audience that the shit will eventually hit the fan. At times, that’s done through the sound design, which at times feels like nails on a chalkboard, boiling the tension to a near unbearable peak. At others, it’s a single shocking shot. Then, finally, The Witch delivers big. Its third act is filled with some simply jaw-dropping payoffs. People have been buzzing about The Witch since Sundance and it’s wholly deserved.
Next up is The Devil’s Candy. It’s the second film from director Sean Byrne, who made the highly underrated and under seen film, The Loved Ones. Set in modern day Texas, it stars Ethan Embry (yes, that Ethan Embry) and Shiri Appleby as parents who buy a brand new house despite warnings of deaths that took place there recently. As you can imagine, that was a mistake.
Simple set up, yes, but it’s the characters that truly give The Devil’s Candy its excitement. You see, Embry’s character is a metal obsessed artist and his daughter, played by Kiara Glasco, is too. Their musical taste adds a percussive energy to the film, which fits in nicely with the demonic voices that live in the house. As the house’s history and present begin to come together, Byrne keeps things moving at a brisk pace, leading up to a finale that includes what’s sure to be one of the best shots of the whole year. The Devil’s Candy is a simple, scary, gross, bad-ass metal Satan movie.
The same can’t be said for February, which stars Emma Roberts and Kiernan Shipka. Directed by Osgood Perkins, February is about an evil that lives in a New York private school. Shipka (who you know from Mad Men) is Kat, a very mysterious, potentially disturbed girl whose parents don’t show up to pick her up for spring break. That leaves her alone at the school with a few nurses and Rose (Lucy Boynton). Simultaneously, Roberts plays Joan, an even more mysterious girl out in the world.
February starts off slow and never picks up. It’s one of those movies that aims to build suspense and mystery by suggesting, and not showing, all kinds of different things. However, even at 90 minutes, the pace becomes incredibly taxing. The pay offs and answers are few and far between (if there at all) and once things actually do start to happen, they never live up to the build up. There’s almost too much room left open for interpretation of the timeline, motivations, nature of the demon and connections between the characters. It’s the kind of ambiguity some will surely love. I did not.
Only at Fantastic Fest could you see these three movies back to back to back.
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