'Candy Land' by John Swab Review: Did I enjoy this?
Keeping up with my recent trend of giving pretty much anything a chance and mostly watching new releases, I came across a film online and decided to go straight into it without really checking the synopsis and reviews. I saw it was recent, and that was enough for me. Though I did see a familiar name within the credits that I noticed but didn't think much of, ultimately assuming it was just a coincidence. Genuinely unsure as to what expect from this film, the first thing I noticed was its relatively short runtime. Funnily that is the first thing I feel the need to mention, as I let out a slight sigh having seen it, knowing I wouldn't have to dedicate two hours or more to a film I very likely would not enjoy.
Though I'm stil uncertain as to whether I did enjoy Candy Land. This is a film that really, and I mean really, left me confused as to whether what I had just witnessed was something I enjoyed or found horrifying. Though horrifying would be an intentional reaction to the film that I'm sure its director would be pleased to hear. This is a film that throws a bit of everything at you, to the point where it's hard to say whether it's a thriller, a horror, or even some indie arthouse. Riddled with vulgarity and depraved actions that have you wanting to turn the film off and watch something else, while still giving you this need to continue and see what happens. Despite its gory scenes and horror elements also comes some depth in the form of the exploration of community; how community can result in the manipulation of people, seeming like a cult and slowly removing the person that sits within, shaping people into those around them. I found that idea to be an equal horror to the rest, as it teased this idea that the guise of community can in fact poison the soul. It's an interesting idea to pursue, and it worked very well alongside the rest of the film. I have to say, it was a surprise to see William Baldwin acting within the film given the nature of it, though his character's performance is unsettling.
Rural areas often find themselves to be the location of suffering. A perfect location to depict the isolated, doomed, and the lost. Those who roam through life with little idea of where they're heading, and often the likely victims of manipulation; struggling to survive and often engaging in rather dangerous activities in order to make ends meet. After all, an isolated location is the ideal location for such people, who would prefer to keep unwanted eyes away from their deeds. This is the setup for Candy Land. A rural location just off the highway and a frequent spot for truckers. Our main characters use this location for make their money, living within a motel which itself runs itself as a brothel. These characters forming a community around prostitution, creating a structure and society around this location in which they look out for each other. At a glance all things seem well for these characters. Sure what they do is highly controversial, but these characters seem content with it.
To counter these characters is a religious group of people spreading their word. A highly traditional group of people that you'd mistake for Amish without their reliance on vehicles to get around. Naturally these two groups somewhat clash, though with little violence, more dialogue in which arguments are had. Things seem fine for the most part from here, until people around the area are found dead, clearly murdered. Though not much is thought of it, and slowly things begin to unravel. I don't want to say too much, because this is definitely a very easy film to spoil! Though outside of the narrative, this film is riddled with vulgarity. Depraved actions and visuals as a result of the prostitution. It really goes all-out in efforts to shock you, and it does it very well. Particularly via plenty of nudity, which goes pretty extreme compared to the average film.
Much of the characters, and the directing and sound design, goes out of its way to really exaggerate and amplify the discomfort that comes with the visuals. Characters are gritty, incredibly creepy, and very much evil in their own ways. I really liked how everything was taken into consideration to really make the viewer feel uncomfortable, to a point where some of the actions just make you want to nervously laugh. Cringing with discomfort at the same time. I can see that many would watch this film and find it so strange, so uncomfortable that they just do not enjoy it at all. Though beneath all of it is that discussion regarding community. To which point is a community bad? When does a community reach a point of manipulating you? Where it removes your innocence and leads you astray, ultimately towards a life you are fooled into enjoying and pursuing?
Alongside this is a more arthouse style of visuals. Despite the themes, Candy Land is a very good looking film. I really enjoyed the directing and the colours, especially the lighting. With films like these it's typically the lighting that gets overlooked, either utilising too many shadows and being too dark as to project the horror and thriller aspects of it. Though this film is bright for the most part. Dusty. Orange. And at night come out the various tones of a motel. Part of me assumed the film may have even been shot on film stock given the way the colours and bokeh looked. I haven't looked that up, but it wouldn't surprise me. Though such a look also comes from vintage lenses on modern cameras.
Ultimately I sit here conflicted. Did I enjoy this? How could I possibly enjoy this? It's against everything I typically enjoy! And there are no doubts whatsoever that I found the film incredibly uncomfortable in parts. Almost sickened by it. But I know deep down that it is intentional, and the film goes about this very well. Though I definitely wouldn't recommend it to everyone. It goes crazy with the vulgarity to the point where many will have had their limits reached, perhaps in much of the nudity and themes around prostitution. Though the film ensures it doesn't glorify it, instead shows us how this lifestyle is the norm for its characters, detailing a contrast between what's normal for them, and what's normal for others. Again handling the idea of community.
I've seen other thrillers and horrors lately, and throughout the years of course. But I don't think I have seen one quite like Candy Land in a long, long time. It definitely stands out on its own with a very oversaturated set of genres. I praise it for that, even if I do struggle to come to a conclusion as to whether it was something I enjoyed or not.