by George Wolf
Early on, plenty in the Shudder original Kandisha is going to remind you of Candyman. The filmmakers wisely address this early as well, and then move right along with a brisk and bloody realization of a Moroccan vendetta born from centuries-old roots.
On summer break from school, teen best friends Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), Bintou (Suzy Bemba) and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) are busy practicing their graffiti art in a dilapidated building. Peeling back some rotting drywall, Amélie spots a spray-painted tag of “Kandisha,” and Morjana recounts the legend.
In 16th century Morocco, Kandisha fought the Portuguese occupation that took her husband’s life. She even managed to kill six enemy occupiers before being caught, tortured, and killed.
Now, she roams the netherworld as a half-beast walking upright on hooves, waiting for a summons that will require her to slay six men before returning to her eternal unrest.
And how do you summon Kandisha? You look in the mirror and say her name five times.
“Like in the movies?”
Yes, girls, just like in the movies.
Writers/directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (the unforgettable Inside) are smart enough to take what we’re thinking and make it organic. We instantly relate to the girls’ scoffing, which helps make us feel connected to the journey that will make them believers.
Once Amélie conjures Kandisha to avenge an assault, it’s a trip that doesn’t waste much time getting down to business. There’s no trace of the silly humor Bustillo and Maury added to Inside, but their penchant for grandiose bloodletting is front and center as Kandisha begins counting to six.
The girls turn to an Imam for help reversing the curse, a narrative thread that ultimately provides more than just monstrous thrills. It’s also the chance for international audiences – especially in America – to see Islam depicted as a source for salvation instead of the stereotypical terrorist breeding ground.
If you’re going back to the well of Bloody Mary and Candyman, the water gets finer via each original filter. Kandisha adds a fresh cultural and female-specific lens to a bloody, take-no-prisoners approach that does much to overcome the tale’s familiar building blocks.