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  Kandisha Candywoman
Year: 2020
Director: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Stars: Mathilde Lamusse, Suzy Bemba, Bakary Diombera, Dylan Krief, Nassim Lyes, Sandor Funtek, Samarcande Saadi, Walid Afkir, Meriem Sarolie
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Summer break in Paris, and teens Bintou (Suzy Bemba), Amelie (Mathilde Lamusse) and Morjani (Samarcande Saadi) like nothing more than hanging out on their estate, passing the holidays shooting the breeze and taunting the boys in their orbit. But there's a problem with one of those males: Amelie's ex-boyfriend is very persistent and has been trying to get back together with her despite her insistence she's not interested. At the moment he is simply a pest, but he will be more forceful before the break is over, which brings in another, if anything, more serious problem. When the girls escape family life to graffiti a derelict tower block earmarked for demolition, Amelie uncovers a name...

Underneath the wallpaper of one abandoned apartment is a word written in French none of them recognise, but is significant. You would probably need to be North African, Moroccan even, to know the significance of the name: Kandisha, or Aicha Qandisha, a folk tale akin to the djinn in Arabic legend, though more obscure. This horror film may spread the renown of the character, a woman with the hooves of a goat which takes bloody revenge on men, and that is why Amelie conjures her up after that irritant of an ex turns extremely nasty. She gives as good as she gets, biting part of his lip off, but she also receives a knockout blow and near-rape until the entity she summoned appears and sets about marmalising her attacker, leaving him dead in the street.

You may think he has been visited with just desserts, but the males the spirit goes on to murder have not broken any laws at all. Therefore you could view the movie as a guarded criticism of the #MeToo movement, where in France it was met with not exactly a warm welcome, more complaints that men could no longer flirt and other such comparative trivia instead of an attack on males who abuse their power and status. That "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" fear is taken to extremes here as writer-directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, no strangers to the horror genre by this stage, present a scenario where feminine vengeance becomes so wild and unfocused that Kandisha is soon merrily dispatching any man she can get her hands on.

This would be impressive on a visual level alone, and she does make for a striking figure with her black veil, bare breasts and hooves, but there was an issue you may have with the other character she evoked: Clive Barker's Candyman. That cult classic of the nineties was so blatantly being ripped off here that fans of the antiheroic horror villain could well be distracted by the similarities, with the urban, underclass setting, the same methods of invoking Kandisha into the world, the same focus on the female as a conduit to the shocks, heck, they even lifted the same twist ending which showed some cheek. What it did not show was originality, and it was frustrating to see a novel antagonist drawn from one venerable tradition so closely married to one with a less mythic backstory.

Albeit one whose parent film was more satisfying in its themes and setpieces than this, as Barker and director Bernard Rose were examining the world of urban myths rather than a phenomenon more ancient and, to an extent, historical. With all those caveats in mind, you might be worried this was a dead loss, not least thanks to the dose of cultural appropriation that seemed to be occurring (Candyman could be guilty of this too), but the directors were too talented for that, so what comes on like a low budget chiller demonstrates some unexpected care and attention to the effects - so that's where the budget went - which see the men torn to pieces and meeting grisly ends in some terrific examples of the makeup department's art. And the Kandisha was admittedly a marvellous creation for the plot's purposes, played alternately by a buxom and alluring siren, or by an actual giantess which goes the extra mile in memorable horror imagery. The young cast was effective too, reminiscent of La Haine, but female, in colour and with gore. Music by Raf Kuenen.

[Premieres 22 July 2021 **A Shudder Original Film.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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