Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo are perhaps best known for their shockingly violent pregnancy horror Inside, in which a grieving, pregnant widow had to fight off an intruder after her baby. Much less known are the director duos’ next film Livid, a vampiric fairytale and Among The Living, in which three kids find themselves at the mercy of a violent killer. The duo now returns with Kandisha, at times refreshingly original, yet often frustratingly traditional ghost story.

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Kandisha is based on the real legend of Aicha Kandisha, a mystical female figure with hooves for feet who preys on men near bodies of water. Candyman, both the legend and the film as well as Bloody Mary, are the obvious comparisons here; all spirits can be summoned by repeating their names.  Kandisha focuses on three young women, Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) and Bintou (Suzy Bemba), who live in the less-than-glamorous neighbourhood of Paris. Their friendship is vibrant and dynamic, all three girls have distinct personalities without any of the irritating stereotypes teenagers are often portrayed with, which often holds horrors like this back.

When Amélie is assaulted by her possessive, almost obsessive ex, she summons the vengeful spirit of Aicha Kandisha in her bathroom by painting a pentagram on the tiles with her own blood and chanting her name, unaware that Aicha Kandisha is indeed real and soon the bodies start racking up. Kandisha is a little bit of everything; a slasher, a rape-revenge film and a religious horror film. It’s hybrid form is mostly successful, but Maury and Bustillo’s film suffers immensely from the inevitable comparisons to Candyman, which successfully infused horror and social commentary and looked at America’s history of racial injustice and slavery.

Kandisha is mostly about the spectacle of violence. Maury and Bustillo are once again focusing on female protagonists as well as a female villain, but here, it’s men who suffer at the hands of Aicha Kandisha. We are so used to seeing female bodies violated, penetrated and mutilated, it feels refreshing to see men perish at the hands of such a powerful spirit, even if most of them are genuinely innocent. Apart from the attack on Amélie, the other men do not transgress, they simply exist and that is their sin. And that is enough for Aicha Kandisha to rip them apart, limb by limb.

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Kandisha’s greatest strength is Maury and Bustillo’s ability to create an authentic sense of time and place. The film’s production design is outstanding and really brings this side of Paris alive on screen. Also impressive is the film’s score by Raf Keunen, which lingers in the background but never overtakes the film’s visuals. Horror, at the end of the day, is all about the harmony of the sound and image and Maury and Bustillo yet again prove to be masters at it. Sadly, Kandisha falls short narratively. The film offers very little surprises and things end exactly as you expect them to, but at least the journey to the conclusion is thrilling and fun.

The three young women playing the leads are fantastic. Maury and Bustillo’s script doesn’t allow for much development of their characters, but they infuse their dynamic with warmth and familiarity, something that aids Kandisha when it starts feeling a little too tired. Kandisha doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but it’s yet another fascinating addition to the filmography of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo and well worth your time.

Kandisha streams exclusively on Shudder July 22

 

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