Candy Land is a sickeningly sweet look into an unexplored world

Candy Land - Courtesy Brigade Marketing
Candy Land - Courtesy Brigade Marketing /

Candy Land is a brand-new mystery horror that descends into the seedy underbelly of truck stops and the self-proclaimed ‘lot lizards’ that make their living off of the transactional sex business that booms within. Following a group of sex workers including Sadie (Sam Quartin), Riley (Eden Brolin), Liv (Virginia Rand), and Levi (Owen Campbell), the stakes are raised when the group draws the ire of a religious cult. When one of the sweet naive young cult females Remy (Olivia Luccardi) finds herself displaced and stuck performing sex work herself in exchange for safety, bodies start piling up. As the group scrambles to discover what is going on while still performing their duties, they wonder if the culprit is a mysterious outside force or one within their tight-knit ranks.

Director John Swab was really swinging for the fences in his creation of Candy Land. It walks a fine line pairing a sweet and boppy soundtrack with visuals of transactional sex and an inside peek at the lives of people selling their bodies to get by. The movie never looks down on the characters, however, it makes a point of expressing the power dynamic that these women and men have. They don’t view themselves as being used for pleasure, instead, they see their bodies as a tool to garner power. They flip the dynamic generally portrayed in this style of film and view themselves and their bodies unashamedly as a resource.

Olivia Luccardi’s performance in Candy Land is a breath of fresh air.

Olivia Luccardi stands out with an exceptionally nuanced and powerful performance, rapidly shifting from an innocent and pure religious zealot to an apprentice in the art of sex work in mere moments. Known for her work in cult classic sci-fi horror romp It FollowsLuccardi displays a deep and layered performance ranging from sickeningly sweet to spine-chilling at points. Owen Campbell gives a resoundingly skillful performance as well, taking the brunt of sexual objectification away from the female cast and placing it upon his own shoulders.

Candy Land
Candy Land – Courtesy Brigade Marketing /

While dotted with many great performances and fresh ideas, Candy Land takes a while to get moving, starting with a slow crawl before hurtling itself to a breakneck pace laced with bloody bodies stacking faster than you can count. Tonally, this is a bit jarring for the viewer and can leave the viewer exasperated at points. When the pace triples, much of the character development that had been built feel left behind at the last highway exit which took away from the emotional weight of several of the kills. While the 90-minute run time kept the movie fresh and moving, a little room to breathe between the plethora of third-act slaying would have saddled the viewer with a bit more emotional heft. However, the bevy of twists are largely unexpected and built up nicely to leave the viewer satisfied and wanting more of this unique world.

All in all, Candy Land has a fresh and airy feeling in the way it is shot, scored, and presented which leaves it feeling like a great step in the right direction for the genre. Breaking the mold of body positivity, power dynamics, and sex work, it has something important to say while harkening and reminiscing to grindhouse and gritty films of yore. While the sex and kills can feel a bit heavy at times, the humor and heart of the characters and performances within keep it feeling fun and approachable throughout. When it releases, it is definitely worth taking the exit to investigate what exactly is bubbling underneath the surface of this truck stop. Be sure to check it out when it releases digitally and in select theaters on January 6th.

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