In Moroccan folklore, Kandisha was a woman who used her beauty to seduce and kill invading Portuguese soldiers. After her death, she was reborn as a djinn who seduces men and lures them to their death. It’s also the title of the latest film from writer/directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. They’re best known for their ferocious debut feature Inside. And, while I think their second film Livid is their best work, it as well as everything after it has failed to match Inside’s critical and popular success. After the relative failure of their Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel Leatherface they’ve returned to France and their bloody roots to make Kandisha. Is that enough to help them turn things around?
Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), Bintou (Suzy Bemba), and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) are killing time during summer vacation when they find the name Kandisha written on a wall in an abandoned building. Morjana, whose family is from Morocco tells the others about her. And how to summon her using a pentagram of blood and repeating her name.
On her way home that night Amélie is attacked and nearly raped by her ex, Farid (Brahim Hadrami). She summons Kandisha ( Mériem Sarolie) to take revenge. But the killings don’t stop with him, and each death is somebody closer to Amélie. Can they find a way to stop her before she gets to Amélie’s little brother Antoine (Félix Glaux-Delporto)?
On the surface, there are obvious similarities to Candyman which is probably why it’s being released a few weeks before that film’s reboot. There’s also more than a hint of Lillith in the myth of Kandisha. Unfortunately, it mostly goes unused. Kandisha simply appears and kills, twisting one victim up like a pretzel, throwing another out of a highrise window, tearing another in half, etc.
Arabic films like Achoura and the Dabbe franchise have shown the region’s folklore can lend itself well to the genre. Unfortunately, Kandisha uses just enough to set the plot in motion and then lets her become a generic killing machine. Even her seductiveness is dispensed with. At first, she appears human but fully dressed. She does show her breasts at one point, but by that point, she’s also showing a pair of goat legs, complete with lethal hooves like a female version of Pan. Needless to say, she’s not particularly appealing or seductive.
To the film’s credit, Kandisha in her more monstrous stages is an effectively nightmarish entity. In her final form, she towers over her victims and is possessed of incredible strength. The kills are brutal, and, give or take some CGI flames, impressively done. The body ripping scene is especially impressive. Unfortunately, none of the victims are developed enough that we care about them.
Even the three leads are badly underwritten. They may all be different ethnicities, but apart from skin colour, they could otherwise be clones of each other, content to do nothing more than smoke weed and spray paint graffiti on walls. And to be honest I lost most of my sympathy for them around the time they tried sacrificing a small furry pet to try to appease Kandisha.
Taken as a collection of jump scares and gory deaths, Kandisha delivers, if you’re in the mood for some mindless splatter it’s a solid choice. But given the story’s potential as well as what we know Bustillo and Maury can do, it should have been a lot more than that. Unless their upcoming film underwater horror, The Deep House, is something special it may be time to write them off like so many other directors who came out of the New French Extremity movement.
Kandisha will stream exclusively to Shudder on July 22 in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.