Saturday, January 7, 2023

The Good, The Bad, And The Verdict: Candy Land (2022)

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, both Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s Quiver Distribution’s neo-slasher Candy Land.

Writer/director John Swab’s 1990s-set horror thriller Candy Land  finds truck stop sex workers — referred to in the film as lot lizards —  Sadie (Sam Quartin), her girlfriend Liv (Virginia Rand), Riley (Eden Brolin), and male sex worker Levi (Owen Campbell) and their den mother-ish madame Nora (Guinivere Turner) plying the world’s oldest profession at a roadside truck stop and motel. Sheriff Rex (William Baldwin) lets the group do their thing, due in some part to his physical/power play relationship with Levi. A young woman named Remy (Olivia Luccardi) shows up at the motel the day after she visits there with a religious group that tried to make the sex workers see the evil of their ways, telling them that she has been turned away from the zealots. Meanwhile, a seemingly ritual murder takes place in the truck stop bathroom, setting off what will become a series of bloody kills.

The Good
Joseph: Candy Land is strong, unflinching stuff, kicking off with a sex scene in a big-rig cab and featuring a brutal sexual assault on one of the sex workers, and boasting a true gut punch of a finale. Swab doesn’t shy away from the violence and the gore, nor does he do so concerning the contradictions between the comparatively free lifestyles of the sex workers and the pent-up ways of the religious group members. The performances are all terrific, with the cast members playing the “lot lizards” making their roles feel lived-in and giving their characters who live on the fringe rather sweet, affectionate relationships with each other. This sets up viewers to care for these characters and to root for them to survive the bloody onslaught that takes place. Luccardi is super in her role as the reserved young woman who was brought up in a religious cult but who must earn her keep turning tricks if she wishes to stay with Nora and her group.

Mike: Right off the bat you know this Candy Land isn't about avoiding the Molasses Swamp or enjoying the Ice Cream Floats. It's also pretty obvious that it isn't going to pull many (if any) punches and that's always a good sign.  Swab doesn't goof around with a lot of needless exposition, giving us enough to know who our characters are and what drives them in their daily lives and, thanks to some decent acting by most everyone, you care enough about them to not want any harm to come to them.  Of course, it wouldn't be much of a horror/thriller if nothing happened, so thankful there are decent amounts of both and while there aren't any "signature" kills, there's enough blood flow and splatter to satisfy.

The Bad
Joseph: My only quibble is that as bodies pile up, especially after very recent contact with the character that audience members know is the killer, the other characters are slow to catch on to whodunit. Suspicions aren’t even aroused.

Mike: The killer's identity is revealed far too early and while that doesn't automatically rate as "bad", the fact that this removes almost all tension from the film, does.  There's also a fairly high body count which should rate as 'Good', but is a hinderance here because of the pretty limited setting and close proximity of all of the characters.  Not enough explanation - or believability - is given as to the disposal of the bodies and while people just trot around their business it makes you wonder how people could be so clueless.

The Verdict
Joseph: I highly recommend Candy Land. It balances the seedy and the harrowing with the touching. Regular Uphill Both Ways readers and listeners know that I am a hard sell on slasher films, but Candy Land goes beyond mere hack-and-slash fare to deliver a shocker guaranteed to linger long after the ending credits roll. 

Mike: If you're looking for a little T&A you're going to get a heaping helping of it at Candy Land.  The story is original, the motivation(s) of the killer make for an interesting change of pace, and the overall package is nicely put together.  I don't know if it's worth a purchase but a rental would totally be worth it.

Candy Land, from Quiver Distribution, is available now in Select Theaters and on Digital

Candy Land
Directed by: John Swab
Starring: Olivia Luccardi, William Baldwin, Sam Quartin, Owen Campbell, Virginia Rand, Guinevere Turner, Eden Brolin
Screenplay by: John Swab
Produced by: Jeremy M. Rosen, John Swab
Executive Producers: Robert Ogden Barnum, Michael Reiser
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Distributor: Quiver Distribution
Run Time: 93 minutes

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