I kept waiting for one of the movies at the Chattanooga Film Festival to wow me, and finally there was Kandisha! The horror movie from directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (the masterful gory home invasion masterpiece, Inside; Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel film Leatherface) is not just gorgeously filmed and visually complex—it has an equally chilling backbone behind it. The closest comparison I could come up with is that Kandisha feels like Candyman’s modern foreign cousin. Kandisha herself is a sinister and terrifying baddie whose imposing figure looms large from the second she makes her very first appearance.
A group of girls, Amelie, Bintou, and Morjana, in crisis mode, scrawling graffiti artwork wherever they can (but mostly in a derelict building only days away from demolition)—these are the unsuspecting women who unearth Kandisha. Her name is scribbled across the wall in one of the rooms under an ugly layer of wallpaper, practically begging them to summon her. One of the girls, Bintou (Suzy Bemba), instantly recognizes the name. Kandisha is a legend: “she’ll drive you insane and kill you.” She is the ghost of a beautiful woman who destroys men, and she may or may not have hooves for feet. You need a pentagram or ouija board to summon her, calling on her five times. They jokingly call upon Kandisha immediately, but without emotion or meaning behind the attempt.
Each of the three main girls has their own unique backstory and set of personal baggage. Bintou lives alone with her father, desperate for connection. Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) mostly hangs out with her brother and his pals, as she works to form an identity of her own. Amelie (Mathilde Lamusse) will do anything for her little brother, but she gets swept up in a storm of weed smoking and class flunking in which her dad is less than thrilled. She also has a crazy ex boyfriend, Farid, who becomes the jumping-off point for the script’s horror. He corners Amelie in an alleyway and beats her, then attempts to rape her. In her rage, Amelie makes a pentagram of her own blood in the shower, calling upon Kandisha to come and collect Farid’s soul. Amelie doesn’t quite release the breadth of her actions or the can of worms she’s opened…
From this point, Bustillo and Maury craft a deliciously sinister and disturbing collection of intricate kill scenes. From the second Kandisha is glimpsed in a creepy sheet-covered sneak peak, she is straight up horrifying. Every moment she is onscreen is a spine-tingling opportunity for atmospheric scares. Not even religion can can save them now… My favorite kill is when Kandisha savagely rips a character in half—the film is fully of brutality and boldness. It has been a signature of the directors since Inside, so I am happy to see that they aren’t just showing off practical gore effects solely for the sake of it. Each nasty head-stomp and shrouded spook is in service of the story and the larger whole.
Kandisha may not be my absolute favorite Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (it would be nigh impossible to surpass Inside), but it is one damn good horror movie. The ending is bleak and eerie, allowing another chance to cherry-top the film’s rich mythology. It is a splashy display of directorial quirks, well-orchestrated scares, and deep-cutting character drama.
Kandisha begs you to call her name five times, exclusively on Shudder, Thursday, July 22nd.