I have written a bit about the French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo. I have written reviews on their debut film Inside, their coming-of-age slasher film Among the Living, and even their single foray into mainstream horror with Leatherface.
Although none of the reviews I have drawn up about their work have ever been a glowing recommendation, per se, I would call myself at least a modest fan and I believe they have a bright future in the genre itself. Even when I have reservations about a film they’ve made, like, for instance, Leatherface, I oftentimes walk away feeling like they were on the cusp of something special and that it slipped from between their fingers in the last second. When something doesn’t necessarily succeed, I find myself walking away feeling like they could hit the mark in their next attempt. There’s a lot of untapped potential there, and even when they miss, they do it with enough style that I’m usually satiated (see Among the Living review).
Kandisha is a film I was caught off-guard by when I discovered it on the Shudder streaming service. Before they even directed Leatherface, I always associated Maury and Bustillo with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or, at least, the core principle of crazy people doing crazy violent things to each other. This one’s a ghost story.
Summarized as a story of what happens when “three childhood friends invoke the spirit of Kandisha, a vengeful creature from a Moroccan legend”. They are soon tormented as loved ones disappear, leaving them with no other option than to try anything they can to confront this evil creature.
An early impression I had, merely from the description alone, I could understand how it would fit into their wheelhouse. They do “slices of life” pretty well, I think. You know the type, the “Stand by Me”, “Stranger Things” style storytelling where it yanks you back to a nostalgic frame of mind. It’s a neat feeling when it’s invoked well.
Kandisha plays in another direction, and for better and for worse, feels very different from anything I’ve ever seen prior from Maury and Bustillo. I would describe it as almost akin to Rob Zombie’s film Lords of Salem, not for the film itself exactly, but because it is such a shift from anything else they’ve done. Like Zombie, their prior films felt soaked by the sleazier, grosser films of Tobe Hooper and eighties horror, amended some by their own personal flavor. This film, on the other hand, for the most part, feels very distant from that.
The story will have to thinking back to Candyman and Bloody Mary, or Llorona and The Woman in Black, touching on classic fables, but not offering anything particularly substantive to the formula. The characters are likable enough, but uninteresting, whereas the plot itself feels shoehorned and far fetched.
One of our characters becomes acquainted with the story of Kandisha while adding graffiti to a rundown building. The scene is brief and far from distinct. Shortly after, she is sexually assaulted, and that is the motivation for her to paint a Pentagram on her shower wall and summon the vengeful spirit. It was a plot development that made me tilt my head like Michael Myers and think, “Huh, that was kind of a weird way to go about that.”
The worst part about Kandisha is how long it feels in spite being very short, a breezy 85 minutes, in fact. It simply didn’t click with me in the least, with neither the characters nor their plight ever resonating beyond a surface level.
About an hour into the film, the encounters with Kandisha are depicted more thoroughly, allowing for ample bloodshed and explicit violence akin to what we’d gotten from the directors’ prior outings, but it feels too little too late in all regards.
I found myself unmoved by Kandisha. I’ll admit straight off the bat that the film was fighting an uphill battle against me. I would consider myself fairly ‘lax when it comes to how I write reviews, in that I try to focus on the positives whenever I can. Still, I can’t deny that I don’t usually gravitate toward ghost stories and can often meet them with disinterest. They’re mines that have been visited often and it can be difficult to find something new to say in the genre. All of that in mind, I found this film especially didn’t agree with me and I can’t recommend it for that reason.