Candy Land, 2022.
Written and Directed by John Swab.
Starring Olivia Luccardi, Sam Quartin, Eden Brolin, Owen Campbell, William Baldwin, Virginia Rand, Brad Carter, Billy Blair, Bruce Davis, Mark Ward, and Guinevere Turner.
A seemingly naïve and devout young woman finds her way in the underground world of truck stop sex workers.
Set during Christmastime 1996, writer/director John Swab’s truckstop sex work thriller Candy Land makes for a tantalizing premise that eventually struggles to find the right direction, perspective, and character dynamics. The same could be said for the filmmaker’s other works (recently having directed Body Brokers, an unsettling but uneven look at junkie rehab center shadiness), but this time there’s an escalation in tone shift that, while it offers gruesome violence and one particularly memorable kill (particularly because in addition to its sick and twisted nature, it’s the only one grounded in the character’s troubled inner conflict), casually annihilates all the goodwill and character intrigue built up over the first act.
Candy Land boldly cold opens with explicit sex inside a parked truck, in turn announcing it’s not going to be shy about this material, introducing Sadie (Sam Quartin, one of John Swab’s regular collaborators), a sex worker living in a motel of sorts around the titular truck stop. There’s an entire system in place, separating the business into four aspects (ranging from one-night stands to truck quickies or something more brazen such as public bathroom sex), complete with clever methods of communication like private radio frequencies for arranging such meetings. Learning about these operations is one of the strong points here, especially since John Swab is interested in coloring details of these characters’ lives early on.
Sadie is here with her romantic partner Riley (Eden Brolin), comfortable with each other taking on sex work to make ends meet and enjoy life within this community of like-minded individuals. Also present is Levi (Owen Campbell, who recently appeared in Ti West’s X, a sex-centered slasher boasting thoughtfully provocative thematic context, which is everything that John Swab wishes this movie had), who fulfills the sexual desires of whatever gay/bi truckers come roaming through the area. This also includes Sheriff Rex (William Baldwin), who enjoys some happy time with Levi as an escape from his failed loveless marriage and in exchange for looking the other way on the sex work.
A doomsday cult also shows up from time to time, preaching the end of the world and generally acting condescending toward the choices of these sex workers. Soon after, one of their members, Remy (Olivia Luccardi), is abandoned there, nonetheless accepted by this group and taught the basics of life that are foreign to her, such as the deliciousness of hot dogs (I swear that’s not a sexual pun.) This is where the perspective shifts from Sadie to Remy, and with it, the story toward religious nuttiness.
That would also be less frustrating if the script didn’t outright drop other planted plot threads (it’s clear that the motherly hen of this sex work ring grooms women for the job that have nowhere to go and nothing else to do in life and cares less about them than she leads to believe. which shockingly quickly becomes an afterthought.)
Likewise, characters experience trauma that is dealt with in the immediate aftermath, with life going on like normal the next day. Random people also start showing up dead, which becomes the primary focal point of Candy Land, increasingly devolving into a bloodbath of uninteresting kills aside from the one previously mentioned at the top of this review.
That’s also a shame because Sam Quartin is bringing much more than there is on the page to Sadie, coming across like a real person mindful of her partner, friends, and the work and protective of the newbie. There comes a point where she questions leaving the truckstop, uncertain where she will go, which sounds like a far more interesting place for the story to head than the psychotic madness Candy Land does close on.
Olivia Luccardi is equally committed to her character, although in a broadly demented way. There’s unfortunately not much to the character, which John Swab doesn’t seem to realize.
The interweaving of sex work and religious death cult fervor in Candy Land exists to draw a parallel between the slimy characters in charge of each group, but in execution, doesn’t say much and veers into excessive bloodshed, which is fun until it becomes repetitive and pointless.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com