It’s summer in Paris, and three besties — Morjana (Samarcande Saadi), Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), and Bintou (Suzy Bemba) — are lazing through the days, partying with friends, and working on their graffiti murals inside an empty apartment building that’s scheduled for demolition. Life isn’t perfect, but it’s not terrible, something that changes swiftly when the teens invite a malevolent spirit into their midst.
Specifically, it’s Amélie who summons Aicha Kandisha after learning about her from Morjana; she’s “a famous legend in Morocco,” “a beautiful woman who destroys men.” After a persistent ex-boyfriend physically attacks her, an anguished Amélie works out her frustration by scrawling a bloody pentagram and calling out to what she thinks is just a figure from a folktale — something Morjana’s brother dismisses as “old-country bullshit.”
Turns out, of course, that Aicha Kandisha is entirely real and decidedly deadly; once conjured, she materialises before Amélie’s tormentor and chases him into traffic. The girls are shaken, but despite Amélie’s nagging sense of dread, the timing of her ex’s death feels like a coincidence…until others in their shared orbit — all men, in keeping with Aicha Kandisha’s modus operandi — start dying horrible deaths.
Slasher-movie style suspense builds as you start to notice how many men surround the three young women — fathers who are both kind and not-so-kind, friends, brothers older and younger, the infant son born to a couple in their social circle as the movie progresses — and wonder who’ll be picked off next.
Writer-directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s best-known previous film is probably Inside — another female-centric horror film, although in an entirely different way (it’s about a woman who becomes fixated on stealing a pregnant woman’s baby). Kandisha takes certain recognisable cues from Candyman: key scenes unfold in a run-down apartment tower, and it features a supernatural villain with a) a tragic backstory, b) a thirst for brutal revenge, and c) the ability to be summoned by anyone who repeats their name over and over.
But where Candyman added depth to its bloody tale with themes investigating America’s racist past and present, Kandisha doesn’t really dig into anything beyond “Oh my god, our loved ones are dying and it’s all my fault.” And though its plot is fairly straightforward, it doesn’t entirely hold together; the last act, which should be its scariest crescendo, supplies plenty of gore (the movie is definitely not short on that) but otherwise proceeds exactly as you’d expect.
However, that’s not to say you should cross Kandisha off your watchlist. Its setting — a working-class, not particularly glamorous side of Paris that’s not usually brought to the forefront — is both unique and vivid, and its characters aren’t the sort of teens that usually populate horror movies.
They feel like real people living realistically messy lives (talking shit, smoking weed, arguing with their parents, goofing off, making art) and the central friendship has a lived-in quality that makes you understand why Bintou and Morjana would willingly involve themselves in Amélie’s spooky nightmare. (The fact that the three girls playfully refer to each other as “Black girl,” “Arab,” and “the white one” suggests they’re well aware of the cultural differences between them and aren’t bothered by them at all. Why should they be?)
There’s also a fascinating subplot that emerges when the girls — who’ve realised the internet is not a useful resource for demon-related problems — manage to track down an exorcist imam who was banished from his mosque for practicing witchcraft. His screen time is brief, but as impactful as you’d want any character answering to that particular description to be.
Kandisha premieres July 22 on Shudder.