Horror

‘Candy Land’: A Disturbing, Horny, And Unmissable New Holiday Horror


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Candy Land Olivia Luccardi

John Swab’s film Candy Land is perhaps one of my biggest surprises of 2022. On the surface, the film would appear to be an exploitative tale about truck-stop sex workers who have a lot of sex with strangers and get treated like trash. It’s a story we’ve seen before and it often paints sex workers as less than, people who deserve their treatment. But, Swab couldn’t have proved me more wrong. With his new film, Swab shows that you can in fact make an effective and gnarly exploitation film in 2022 while also eschewing assumptions of cruelty and political incorrectness that seem inherent in the subgenre. Swab crafts a heart-wrenching tale about found family, survival, and love in a seemingly seedy place, shining a light on a world that many look down upon.

The film’s title references the nickname truckers have given this particular truck stop. Why? Because the sex workers found here are young, clean, and smart. The group consists of Riley (Eden Brolin), Sadie (Sam Quartin), Liv (Virginia Rand), and Levi (Owen Campbell). They’re a family that gives each other shit, shares food, cleans each other’s wounds, and offers moral support in any way possible. Even further, Swab dives into the complex sexualities of sex workers and how sex with a partner versus sex with a client is very different and separate. Riley and Liv are a couple who are both sex workers who primarily have sex with men. It may seem like a small detail. But it gives these characters more nuance than just two-dimensional stereotypes about sex workers.

Also Read: ‘Bones And All’ Rips Out Your Heart and Takes A Bite [Review]

Then, the group meets Remy (Olivia Luccardi), who has been kicked out of her ultra-conservation religious community. She’s left at Candy Land and is taken in by the group of sex workers. Reluctantly, they introduce her to the profession, teaching her how to stay safe and the strange lingo of truck drivers. Together, they face closeted sheriffs (William Baldwin), sketchy clients, and mysterious murders in the truck stop bathrooms. 

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Perhaps one of the most upsetting yet carefully handled moments in the film is the sexual assault of Levi by a male client. Male sexual assault is rarely, if ever, depicted on screen. Yet, in Candy Land, Swab decides to show it, as well as Levi’s revenge against his rapist. This sub-rape-revenge plot again shows Swab’s nuanced approach to the topic of sex work. Yes, it is difficult to watch and won’t be for everyone (which extends to the film in its entirety). But it’s also a necessary perspective to integrate into horror, especially as the genre continues to examine sexual assault from a more careful lens.

Also Read: ‘Shifted’ Comes In With A Bang [FilmQuest 2022 Review]

Campbell only deepens the effectiveness of Levi’s character as a whole. Campbell is a rising star as seen in his performances in Super Dark Times, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell Me To, and, most recently, Ti West’s X. In Candy Land, Campbell continues to demonstrate his emotional range as a performer. He makes Levi charismatic, charming, silly, and sad all in one facial expression. But he never plays Levi as a tragic character. We aren’t meant to pity him, because he openly acknowledges he chooses to do this. The entire group is given agency in choosing their line of work. They’re never made to be ashamed or embarrassed about who they are. 

Candy Land 1024x536 - 'Candy Land': A Disturbing, Horny, And Unmissable New Holiday Horror Classic [Review]

Speaking of rising stars, Luccardi, who’s also most recently seen in Beth du Araujo’s disturbing Soft & Quiet, pulls a terrifying performance as the seemingly innocent Remy. Similar to her character in Soft and Quiet, she begins as a meek being, one that can be easily influenced. Here, Remy’s sheltered upbringing makes her seem naive about the world, which is partially true. But every word she utters is dripping with menace. While she seems to blend in with her found family, something never feels truly right. And it’s only underlined by her strange interactions with clients.

Also Read: ‘Run Sweetheart Run’ Is An Unflinching Look At Gendered Violence [Review]

This menace slowly builds, making Candy Land feel more like an intimate drama with an air of danger. Then, something snaps, and the intimacy established throughout the film’s first half is decimated through escalating violence and tragedy that help the film reach its full exploitation potential. Swab saves the tragedy for the film’s very end, making an event rather than a profession something to be upset about. 

Candy Land is a rare film that can make you fall in love with its imperfect characters and their intimate dynamics and also scream at an old perverted priest having his neck broken by a woman’s thighs. That sentence alone demonstrates the careful line Candy Land walks, and yet makes it look effortless. It is not a film without tragedy. And it sure is not a film with a happy ending. But Swab doesn’t aim that tragedy at the sex workers by detailing traumatic pasts, abusing them, or salivating over their naked bodies. Instead, their jobs and choices are treated with respect. This only makes the tragedies in Candy Land even more powerful. 

Summary

Candy Land is a rare film that can make you fall in love with its imperfect characters and their intimate dynamics and also scream at an old perverted priest having his neck broken by a woman’s thighs.

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