Streaming Review

Kandisha review – teen horror grapples with the ghosts of assimilation

A sharp script and astute social commentary elevate a familiar slasher from French duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury

It’s summer break in present day Paris. But this is a far-cry from the romanticised, postcard version of the city which boasts cultural ubiquity: here, it’s a brutalist metropolis patched together with graffiti tags and döner shops, where teens kill their days in down-trodden districts by smoking weed and canoodling with boys in abandoned tower blocks. What else is one to do, after all?

Summoning a vengeful ghost from Arabic antiquity probably wouldn’t be your next impulse – but after a bloody scuffle with her gropy ex-boyfriend, that’s exactly what Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse) does. The eponymous Kandisha, the spirit of a woman tortured and executed after avenging her murdered husband, is unleashed onto the Parisian streets, with results as bloody as you might expect.

Taking a healthy dollop of inspiration from Hollywood’s myriad supernatural spookies – Drag Me to Hell being the most explicit muse – the French-language Kandisha, directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, points a gigantic flashing arrow at just how much a good script can elevate the most banal of low-fi horror flicks. In this case, it’s all positive: though the story is derivative of said Hollywood titles that came before it, and it’s more eerie than it is terrifying, Kandisha is cut through with acidic, genuinely funny line-reads that contribute towards a great tonal balance.

The key beats are all, nevertheless, familiar. Beat one: sympathetic protagonist, amid the fiery embers of emotional passion, conjures a spirit, despite their skepticism. Two: spirit goes on a rampage. Three: the trio of friends, ever the more desperate as the bodies pile high, seek help from a Wise But Eccentric Religious Leader. Four: that doesn’t work, and all seems lost. Five: and then!

That the film remains compelling regardless is a testament to the more novel aspects imbued by Bustillo and Maury, lacing the script with an elevated social consciousness. The lion’s share of the cast are second or third generation migrants, and Kandisha represents the mythologies of the old world – the values of their parents – bleeding into the new.

Slashers have historically dealt, at least tacitly, with youthful sexual morality: those of the small-C conservative Reagan era pit vengeful serial killers against thirsty, bikini-clad teens, or saw burnt-up blokes in fedoras killing horny kids in their beds. Kandisha isn’t particularly profound, but it does carry on with this tradition. This time the inflection is assimilation: how does one reconcile the moral values of the home country, of one’s parents, with those of the new world? The eponymous ghost, lurking in the shadows and picking off charged-up blokes, literalises those anxieties to inspired effect.

Kandisha is available on Shudder from 22 July.

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