candy land | john swab | olivia luccardi | sam quartin | eden brolin | slasher | thriller | united states | period piece | owen campbell | virginia rand | william baldwin | guinevere turner | brad carter | bruce davis | mark ward | billy blair | laevin story | mark murphy
Film: Candy Land
Director: John Swab
Writer: John Swab
Starring: Olivia Luccardi, Sam Quartin and Eden Brolin
This is one of the earlier releases into 2023 that I heard about. I’m guessing it did its festival run last year. Other than that, I knew this was a slasher and voices in the horror community were positive about it. I decided to rent this one since there wasn’t a new release at my theater in genre for a Featured Review on Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast. I’ve also given it a second watch to see where I stood as well for my end of year.
Synopsis: a seemingly naïve and devout young woman finds her way in the underground world of truck stop sex workers a.k.a. ‘lot lizards’.
That is a solid recap without spoiling. The title of the movie is a nick name for this specific truck stop where everything is happening. We follow a group of prostitutes that work it. There is Sadie (Sam Quartin). She works there with Liv (Virginia Rand). They are also dating. We also have Riley (Eden Brolin) and Levi (Owen Campbell). Their madame is Nora (Guinevere Turner). She allows them to stay in a nearby motel. There is a variety of ways they turn tricks, which gives us the rundown.
Outside of truckers, there are also others that frequent this stop. Sheriff Rex (William Baldwin) protects them in a way. He also frequents Levi’s services. There is a religious sect that goes there as well. They are led by Theo (Brad Carter). He is a religious preacher who tries to give our group fliers about repenting. Liv makes a lewd comment and flashes him. He is there in a van of followers, including Remy (Olivia Luccardi) and her brother Jonah (Laevin Story).
To go back to the synopsis, the naïve and devout young woman is Remy. She is taken in by Sadie and the others of this group after being ostracized from hers. Nora even helps her. They explain the ropes to her and since she doesn’t have a plan, if she wants to stay here, then she needs to earn her keep. Things aren’t as they seem and she might not be as meek as they believe. A man is murdered in a stall and that is just the start. It seems that a john might have done the slaying, but there is also this religious group as well.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the characters. I decided to go a bit brief on my recap and try to spoil this. Something that I realize I didn’t share is that this takes place in 1996. It doesn’t necessarily feel like it though. They aren’t in your face about it and I believe the reason to set this when they did correlates to how close timewise to something in the end. This mimics a real event. This is its own story, but what we see is similar.
Now that taken care of, I rather enjoyed what this movie was doing. This takes care about the details of what it takes to be a truck stop sex worker. In doing this, we see how close this group is. It almost feels like a family. They hang out and they take care of each other. Something else I picked up on is that many of these people don’t have any other prospects in life. It is demeaning, but the money is good. They’ve accepted who they are. It is also scary. What bothers me is that if we just legalized sex work across the United States, we wouldn’t situations like we get in this one. They also wouldn’t have to fear for their lives either.
Where I’ll then shift is this religious group. I’m going to go ahead and call them a cult. They are strict in their beliefs. I do feel bad for Theo. He tries to pass fliers to the girls and Liv is vulgar in her response. I’m not religious and I don’t like people pushing their beliefs on me. She goes too far though. I like to think that this shows the dangers of both sides. A negative toward the religious group is that they kick Remy out of the group. We don’t fully know the reason. She falls in with this clique and it makes you think one thing. It might be another though and I like how this develops to the resolution. How they manage religious fanatism here is well-done. It isn’t in your face, but it is behind the scenes.
I should then get into what sub-genre this falls into. It becomes a slasher. Fairly early we get this man found dead in the bathroom. There is then a scene not too long after where a john is killed. Soon after, Levi is attacked by another. He fights back. It is here that I was wondering if we were going to see these workers at the truck stop taking these customers out. That isn’t necessarily the case. I’m not going to go farther than that, but I like where they go. It kept me interested as I’m piecing things together and then just settling in for the ride.
Since this is a slasher, what makes these work for me are two important things. The best slashers for me have either good kills or good characters. This did have both and that pleasantly surprised me. The first is likeable characters. It makes me care about our crew. Quartin, Brolin, Campbell and Rand are good. The best performance though is Luccardi. When she first arrives, she is meek and timid. I like the grow we see in her character. I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m also not shocked either. Things come together there. I also thought that Baldwin, Turner and Carter were good. The rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
All that is left is filmmaking. I think this is well done. I’ll start with the other thing that makes an effective slasher which is kills. There is a cool weapon here which is a knife that this hidden inside of an item that a character clutches and it looks innocuous. We don’t get a lot of variety with the kills, but that doesn’t hurt the movie. The blood was good and it looked practical. I’m a fan there. This ramps up as things go on. I’ll give credit as well to the cinematography for how things are framed. That helps the effects. It also has a gritty look to it which fits the setting. We don’t get beat over the head with the period used. That helps prevent it from feeling dated as well. Other than that, the soundtrack fit what was needed.
In conclusion, I’m glad that I didn’t sleep on this movie for my end of year. This is a solid slasher film that has more under the surface. I like the group of characters we follow. They’re a bit crass and vulgar, but they feel real. I care what happens to them. There is good commentary hidden under the surface or you can just watch this a slasher. This was well-made from the effects to the cinematography. I don’t know if I can recommend this to everyone due to the images we see. If you like slashers, then I’d say to give this a watch.
My Rating: 8 out of 10