Oh, this is not good. But here’s the thing: once in a great while, I see something so bad that I want everyone else to see it to, just so there are other people who I can meet years from now, and we’ll both be able to look at each other in silence and just nod knowingly that we both viewed and endured The Candy Witch. I know it doesn’t seem fair to go after an independent horror film, but I do consider it part of my job to warn people against spending their hard-earned money (all the more valuable these days) on something that simply isn’t worth it. I will always do my best to steer you away from the bad and also toward the good.
I’ll admit, I don’t know much about director Rebecca J. Matthews, but she seems to specialize in making films with titles that definitely remind you of other, better films. Her first feature was titled Pet Graveyard…come on. And even the current title (and only the title, not the plot) has some distinct Candyman similarities. Truth is, I agreed to screening The Candy Witch because I liked the title and thought it might offer a unique twist on the witch subgenre of horror. Instead, I found myself baffled as to why every character in The Candy Witch sounds like they’re faking either a British or American accent. And more importantly, why does a family of Americans live in an estate in Britain. The result is an American family played by actors struggling intensely to hide their British accents while they in turn struggle to recite some defiantly stilted dialogue courtesy of screenwriter Scott Jeffrey.
The focal point of the film is Reece (Jon Callaway), a ghost whisperer of sorts whose main objective when called in for a consultation is to give the spirits a voice and help them figure out a way to move on—a noble cause, but one that comes with a price. Often when he hears ghosts, it rips through his ears so strongly that he’s at risk of going deaf. His girlfriend Kat (Abi Casson Thompson), who looks like a music video babe circa 1989, handles his social media and photography work, hoping to capture the ghosts on film and use it to promote the business. They are called in by the aforementioned family to discover the truth about the spirit of a former nanny to the children (Kate Lush), who allegedly abused them years earlier and then went missing rather than face the authorities…or at least that’s how the legends tell it. She is known as the Candy Witch, and she seems to not just want to haunt this family and others in the surrounding town who tormented her years earlier; she wants them all dead.
Aside from the uneven acting and weirdly confusing story, The Candy Witch keeps changing its tone and focus. In one scene, the daughter of the family (Hannah Ponting) makes it clear she doesn’t believe in any of what others say is going on. Then two scenes later, she’s cowering in the dark with everyone else, very much convinced the witch is out to get her family, as if she always believed it. This may not sound like much, but it’s a strange inconsistency—one of many. For a time, the family attempts to keep certain facts away from Reece, but then why hire him to get rid of this ghost at all if they aren’t willing to supply him with enough information to make that happen?
The family is rounded out by Heather Jackson as mom Ruth, Richard D. Myers as dad Willie, and Will Stanton as only son Will, who the nanny is said to have sexually abused when he was younger. It’s a weighty subject to just throw in for kicks, but that’s essentially what the filmmaker does (and then rewrites history two or three more times before the truth is revealed). And don’t even get me started on Reece’s wardrobe, which consists entirely of button-down dress shirts that seem tailored just a little too small to fit comfortably around his broad shoulders and huge pectorals.
As it goes on, The Candy Witch spirals into confusion and increasingly ramped-up violence, while simultaneously meandering through life as if it has nowhere to be in anything resembling a hurry. There’s a generous part of me that wants to believe that maybe director Matthews structured and paced her film like this deliberately, for a laugh—how I longed for a punch drunk (or maybe just drunk) midnight crowd surrounding me while I watched this. But it’s more likely that the film was made in the hopes of making a quick buck on the On Demand market at a time when horror fans are craving something, anything that promises scares and blood (this film has one of those, plus a lot of screaming). And while I’m not recommending this to folks who like their horror a bit more refined and better acted, if you can get some friends to watch this with (remotely), I can see this being a certain type of good time. You know me: always looking for the silver lining in the toughest of times.
The film is now available On Demand, via most digital platforms, and on DVD.