Kandisha: A French-Moroccan Candywoman

Perhaps there are worse ways to whet one’s appetite for Nia Costa’s forthcoming remake of the classic slasher Candyman than this French-language imitator that serves as a reminder of the extent of the original’s influence. Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury have admitted the influence of Clive Barker (author of the original book) on their style, and the shadow of the seminal work is a spectre as tough to shake off as the titular avengers of both movies. It certainly goes beyond the first syllable of the name, and there are even shades of Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead in the story, as well. Though the echoes are never less than evident, as it goes on, it progressively becomes clearer where Kandisha falls more into the territory of folkloric reinterpretation than outright rip-off. After a somewhat stodgy and even first hour, the third act does take a rewarding turn for the dramatic.

The film begins by introducing us to a trio of young women, divided and defined by race and class in a familiar and rather shallow cross-demographic manner: working-class white girl Amélie (Mathilde La Musse), hard-working Moroccan nurse Morjana (Samacande Saadi), and lower-middle-class Black girl Bintou (Suzy Bemba). The trio spends their nocturnal grind hanging out at kebab restaurants with friends and tagging walls in their Banlieue. During one such excursion to a derelict building (twinned with Cabrini-Green, I’m sure), they find scrawled evidence of a Moroccan bogeywoman: Kandisha, a vengeful spirit summoned to exact revenge upon men for the evils inflicted upon her in life. Amélie is currently trying to shake off her clingy ex Farid (Brahim Hadrami), and when he gets physical with her, she carelessly invokes Kandisha with fatal consequences.

Bintou (Suzy Bemba) and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) seek the counsel of a local imam.

The film’s evocation of its cast of working-class teens isn’t especially convincing or compelling, with the characters constantly ribbing each other about race and class in a fairly contrived way that doesn’t develop into anything you could call a fully-fledged theme. The feeling of multi-ethnic young women as written by a pair of middle-aged, white men isn’t one the film ever fully shakes off. The cast of unknowns does their best to add credibility to their roles though, and as formulaic and underwritten as they might often feel, the performances do sufficient heavy lifting. The film mostly sticks to the most road-tested of horror tropes, but in some ways, it’s admirable that it sets its brows higher than some, choosing to emulate the more respected horrors of yesteryear than the hotter properties of today, prioritizing atmosphere and gore over popping balloons behind the audience’s heads.

The strong racial themes of Candyman resurface here too, set in a multicultural neighbourhood with its monster rooted in Islamic, North African culture and folklore, though with a white French protagonist, there’s the distant specter of the colonising of Algeria and other historical sins seeking atonement. The demonic Kandisha is not only a vengeful female spirit but an Islamic one too. This angle doesn’t feel quite as well developed or as highly motivated as it is in its forerunner. Most of the use and appropriation of Islamic culture is fairly shallow, but it adds a unique flavour to the film for those seeking more to sink their teeth into.

Hoping to exorcise Kandisha, a local Imam tries to summon her with a pentagram

A large part of why the film seems to improve so much in the last third is the effective use of gore as it ramps up to the climax. The CGI violence is pretty tacky and occasionally exacerbated by poor acting, but some of the more ambitious on-set effects and makeup look superbly gristly and crunchy. It feels likely all the effort went into one or two big memorable effects scenes that they absolutely nailed, leaving little time or budget for the more mundane setups. Some of the deaths presented are legitimately shocking and upsetting, occasionally to the movie’s detriment as the brutality of these deaths really feels like it necessitates more time to absorb our leads’ reactions. As Kandisha only has it out for men, our leads are safe, but their loved ones are in the firing line, with the movie ideally poised to accurately depict the pain that comes with losing a loved one, especially in such brutal fashion. That’s the kind of thing that would’ve taken this movie from good to great. If you have difficulty with animal deaths, then you might want to sit this one out as there’s a particularly upsetting example that feels especially unneeded and out of character.

The theme that Kandisha seems most fit to explore is that of female anger and revenge, of which the titular demon is an embodiment. There’s a potential paranoiac #MeToo angle to the invocation of an agent of female wrath brought down on the head of a violent and abusive man, only for it to run rampant and target every assigned male in sight. Some might find this idea inherently problematic, especially as a statement coming from male creatives, but Kandisha doesn’t really develop this angle to the point where it becomes that hard to condemn or discuss. You don’t have to delve into this route too far before you find yourself feeling as if you’re thinking harder about this than the writers did.

Vengeful Djinn Kandisha (Maria Jose Cazares Godoy) revels in her fresh kill (Nassim Lyes)

The film initially seems to be playing its cards close to its chest in showing Kandisha herself, variously portrayed by Meriem Sarolie, Maria José Cazares Godoy, and Brahim Takioullah. Initially, she’s mostly glimpsed rather lamely, as only a fleeting figure, dressed full length in niqab and dangling gold. However, the actual reveal arrives when she attacks a man in a sauna, and it’s simply majestic. Emerging from the steam on cloven hooves, exuding sexuality and power with every stride, Kandisha is a bad b*tch in every sense, and she owns the movie from then on, leaving a trail of twisted, broken bodies in her wake. She’s the sort of character clipping. would write a song about, and her appearances are quite enough to sustain the movie to its conclusion and carry it across the finish line. The story itself may feel redundant at some times or half-baked at others, but if nothing else is certain, the bare-breasted, statuesque Kandisha slays and seems destined for iconic status if the film finds its audience.

Kandisha begins streaming on Shudder this Thursday, July 22nd.

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Written by Hal Kitchen

Primarily a reviewer of music and films, Hal Kitchen studied at the University of Kent where they graduated with distinction in both Liberal Arts BA and Film MA, specializing in film, gender theory, and cultural studies. Whilst at Kent they were the Film & TV sub-editor and later Culture Editor of the campus newspaper InQuire and began a public blog on their Letterboxd account. Hal joined 25YearsLaterSite as a volunteer writer in May 2020 and resumed their current role of assistant film editor in November 2020.

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