It feels like after the success of Inside, the debut and arguable pinnacle of the French New Wave of Horror (though I prefer Martyrs) the writing/directing team of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo have struggled to find another story where their particular sensibilities really pay off. Their latest, Kandisha, is a step in the right direction: it’s simple, direct, and features solid performances as well as squirm-inducing scenes of uncomfortable gore and bloodshed. It’s not going to set the world on fire, and it’s not going to be talked about in the same breath as other entries in the new French Extreme (though it will probably get a LOT of comparisons to Candyman), but it does show the team continuing to reach out and try their hand at other forms of horror, which is always a good thing.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: Three friends – Amélie, Bintou, and Morjana – spend their time bemoaning life in the estates of Paris while trying to brighten it up with graffiti. After Amélie is brutally assaulted by a drunken ex-boyfriend she recalls the story of discovered earlier of Kandisha, a Moroccan spirit and evokes her with some blood, a pentagram, and saying her name five times. Similar to Ed Harley in Pumpkinhead, when Kandisha comes to claim vengeance Amélie soon discovers the cost is not what she expected, and she and her friends have to figure out how to stop the killing before everyone they love is dead.
Even removing the outright horror and gore, Maury and Bustillo do a lot right to invest you in the characters of Kandisha. We get a sense of the hardships of all three girls: Amélie and her young brother still live in the cheapest part of town, and are maybe slightly resentful Bintou, whose parents just moved into a nicer section of the estates. Bintou herself seems ashamed of this move up, and never invites her friends in. Morjana lost both her parents and her Muslim heritage is a source of pain for her. All of this is fleshed out nicely against the backdrop of the Moroccan legend, and when things do start to get brutal you see how close (or not) these ties between friends are.
But this is a horror movie, so what about the horror? Kandisha has a great monster design, at first appearing as a shrouded figure, then a beautiful woman before finally appearing in her true monstrous form: a massive faun-like creature, misshapen and filthy with hooves for feet. Those hooves are put to deadly use in one quest death scene, and although the low budget does at times make for some dodgy CGI gore, Maury and Bustillo shove enough practical effects in there (a twisted and mangled body, a horrible broken ankle, and one poor guy literally ripped in half) to satisfy the most dedicated of gore hounds.
All that is great, but I really found myself invested in the three friends and how they come together to fight this thing that – ancient and evil and it is – was summoned because fo the all-too-real violence perpetrated on one of their own. You’d be right to read some commentary into the fact Aïsha Kandisha only kills men, and the film doesn’t hit you over the head with it. Overall a real solid movie, and it has me even more excited for The Deep House, the other film Maury and Bustillo have ready for release this year.