It was a shock to the system to realise how, before the yet-set rollout of their novel and anticipated The Deep House, French filmmaking duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury have another film for horror fans — Kandisha. Perhaps with the extreme brains behind the mother-versus-madwoman hit À l’intérieur, this folklore-based hors d’oeuvre before the underwater haunted house entrée might be a neat diversion, or even an upstaging lying in wait. The more likely scenario, however, is that it’s neither, as Kandisha commits the fatal mistake of not leaning into the foundation that sets itself apart from other hunter-hunted genre titles.
After the exposition on Kandisha, a northern Moroccan legend about a beautiful woman, Aicha Qandicha, who was killed by men and then came back as a half-person, half-hoofed being to kill all men, Bustillo and Maury would use tactics to lessen her uniqueness, removing the cultural-specific scales off of a cultural-specific entity. It was how Michael Chaves approached La Llorona for his terror-free and yawn-aplenty — if highly polished — Conjuring Universe entry.
As a result, you won’t lose any credibility for thinking the Kandisha who roams around the complex and violently evicts the male residents is simply another masked, inhuman assailant. Where are the qualities, the hints denoting she is a jinn? Be it the uber-rapid (if gory) set pieces, haphazard editing from Baxter or both, actress Mériem Sarolie’s efforts to convey Kandisha’s modus operandi of seducing her prey toward death are always undermined. Those seemingly in-suspension motions and gentle exhales through the niqab are footnotes rather than features.
But Bustillo and Maury find more success in building a narrative that fits both the ancient evil and characters you can become invested in. Thick-as-thieves graffiti artists Bintou (Suzy Bemba), Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) lead Kandisha, and it’s Amélie who awakens what shouldn’t be after her ex assaulted her to win back her love. The problem is, Kandisha doesn’t stop at just that particular target. After an odd point-of-view switcheroo — the film begins with and reveals at least one key detail around Bintou before centering on Amélie — nothing seems to stop the story from moving forward to the deaths, the dramas, the exorcising sequence, the consequences, and then the end.
It is much appreciated that, like in À l’intérieur, nobody gets to feel safe or restful. Again, the moment the hammer lands on them isn’t lengthy enough to savor, but the resulting mess of spilled crimson and guts could still induce winces. The three are young, so they don’t yet own the complete picture of their actions; this is something our actresses, primarily Lamusse, convey well. It certainly helps, giving viewers the means to overlook the film’s flaws and see what kind of ending awaits the “BAM.” Those initials are how the women would sign their artwork, but could it also stand for “Bustillo And Maury”?
Now there’s a detail more haunting than Kandisha herself! This, and assuming that The Deep House lives up to its buzz, would validate the argument that Kandisha is just Bustillo and Maury keeping their genre sensibilities busy before when they are needed. Just a rehearsal before the big show, to phrase it differently.
Kandisha will stream exclusively to Shudder on July 22 in the US, Canada, UK, and Ireland.