Review: ‘Kandisha’ (2021)

Kandisha. Kandisha. Kandisha. Kandisha. Kandisha.

What we have here is an unapologetic and knowing riff on Candyman from French horror filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. While these fellas came out swinging with the one-two-three combo of Inside, Livid, and Among the Living, they unfortunately stumbled with their 2017 Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel, Leatherface. I can’t hold that against them, however. It was a troubled production and the film was completely recut without their input. None of that matters, as they have thankfully rebounded here.

That’s right, Kandisha is a winner. It might just be Candyman with a Moroccan legend paintjob, but by god, it’s a good one. Not only is the titular demon a striking newcomer to the horror canon, but the film around her packs a wallop. There are some truly creepy sequences peppered through the film, along with a heaping amount of brutal slayings. It’s exactly what you’d want from this filmmaking duo.

As for the characters, our leads are three young women on summer break from school. I’m assuming high school, although it’s never really clear. Regardless, these besties are spending their summer hanging out and trying to scrape by in their low income area. Amelie (Mathilde Lamusse) has an intact family, but her parents might as well not even be there. They seem utterly clueless as to what is going on in her life and she appears to take care of her little brother more than they do.

Bintou (Suzy Bemba) has a loving single father, but he’s always off working out of necessity, so she’s often left to her own devices. Then there’s Morjana (Samarcande Saadi), whose parents are deceased, forcing her to work late shifts at the local hospital to pay the rent and her older brother is the local pot dealer. Almost everyone in their community is just trying to get by and they all seem to care for one another. Even the local police don’t seem all that interested in stopping them from tagging city walls with spray paint. After all, these kids don’t have much and there are far worse thing that they could be off doing. Like I said, everyone seems to care.

Save for Amelie’s ex-boyfriend, that is. An obsessive and abusive man, he’s the catalyst for all the bad that happens later on. Catching Amelie alone on the street one night, he beats her when she continues to reject his advances and almost rapes her. She thankfully gets away, but his abuse leads to her using her own blood – seeping from the wounds he caused – to conjure Kandisha.

Who is Kandisha (Meriem Sarolie)? A woman who was wronged by men generations prior and, in death, was bound to a demon. She’s effectively a spirit of vengeance that can be called upon to kill whoever her caller desires. Naturally, there’s a price. She won’t just take the target you give her. She requires the souls of 6 men before her curse will subside and since Amelie only points a finger at the one, she needs more. This results in Kandisha coming after all men connected to our teen protagonists, whether those men are bad people or not.

What follows after is a series of supernatural killings that our leads must figure out how to stop, which won’t be easy. To break this curse, a ritual due! This eventually leads them to seeking out help from an Imam, giving us one of the few examples of Muslim exorcists in European/American cinema. I’d love to see more, because while I am always up for a good dose of Catholic-soaked horror, it’s nice to actually see the same tropes tackled from an entirely different religious and cultural perspective.

Kandisha might not have the most original plot, but it more than makes up for it with good writing, great performances, and shocking imagery. It’s one of the better horror films that I have had the pleasure of seeing this year and a stark reminder of what intriguing genre minds like Bustillo & Maury can conjure up when left to their own devices. It also has me excited to see their next film (The Deep House) and whatever else they might have on the way.

Kandisha is a French supernatural horror film. It was written and directed by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury. The film was produced by Wassim Beji, Delphine Clot, David Giordano, and Guillaume Lemans. It stars Mathilde Lamusse, Suzy Bemba, Samarcande Saadi, Meriem Sarolie, Dylan Krief, Felix Glaux-Delporto, Bakary Diombera, Sandor Funtek, and Nassim Lyes.

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