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Shudder’s Kandisha Conjures Womanhood and Revenge {Movie Review}

Who hasn’t imagined unleashing revenge on an ex or their worst enemy? For a trio of friends in Kandisha, however, they get more than they bargained for after one of them summons a Moroccan vengeance demon. No man remains safe with the monster on the loose. The film is a tense, atmospheric ride, a women-centered narrative with a hooved creature that steals the show.

French duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are the brains behind this Shudder original. The writing/directing team, best known for their New French Extremity film Inside (2007), created a moody film. The lesser-known urban legend of Aisha Kandisha fascinates and disturbs. And though Bustillo and Maury’s latest doesn’t quite have the gore or brutality of their first feature, it does have two specific kills in its later half that echo their early work. This demon’s vengeance is undeterred, as she crushes men beneath her hoof (literally).

The performances are generally strong, too. Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse) summons Kandisha after her ex assaults her, and she’s the one most affected. She sees each kill through the monster’s eyes. This is a creative spin that ups the horror and stakes. The film also stars Samarcande Saadi as Morjana and Suzy Bema as Bintou. The trio are graffiti artists who find solace in their run-down neighborhood by spray painting walls. Their bond grows stronger with each tragedy.

They learn of the demon when they see her name scrawled on the walls of an abandoned high rise. The building becomes a character unto itself, looming large and monstrous within a frame. Bustillo, Maury, and cinematographer Simon Roca really create an absorbing atmosphere with wide-angle shots of the working-class, largely Arab neighborhood.

Courtesy of Shudder

Some comparisons to Candyman are warranted. Kandisha is summoned by repeating her name and drawing a pentagram on the wall in blood. She also has a tragic past, killed by 16th Century Portuguese soldiers after they murdered her husband and she sought revenge. Further, the French neighborhood is not too dissimilar to Chicago’s Cabrini Green. Both are abandoned by the majority population but hide an urban legend waiting to be summoned. In Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, it looks like Cabrini Green’s gentrification will be a key part of the narrative. We’ll see.

The monster, played by Meriem Sarolie, takes many forms. At times, she’s phantom-like, moving through narrow apartment hallways, seeking her next male victim. Other times, she’s a seductress, before morphing into a towering monster with hooves. However, though her backstory is given, she’s not afforded much complexity. How would the film have been different if a female director and writer crafted her story, instead of two men? Would she have been something more than monstrous? It’s a question to consider.

Overall, Kandisha is a solid movie. It’s not as extreme as Inside, but it has two specific kills that are some of the best so far this year. Bustillo and Maury have a excellent track record, and this film is a fine addition to their filmography. Though I would have liked more of Kandisha’s story and maybe a little more of an empathetic character, but at least I know her name now. I’ll just refrain from speaking it out loud anytime soon.

Kandisha premiers on Shudder July 22.

Official Synopsis: It’s summer break and best friends Amélie, Bintou and Morjana hang together with other neighborhood teens. Nightly, they have fun sharing scary stories and urban legends. But when Amélie is assaulted by her ex, she remembers the story of Kandisha, a powerful and vengeful demon. Afraid and upset, Amélie summons her. The next day, her ex is found dead. The legend is true and now Kandisha is on a killing spree— and it’s up to the three girls to break the curse.

Courtesy of Shudder