By: Steph Cannon
Every culture has its own urban legends, many of which share a commonality, regardless of region or belief system. Most of us are familiar with the myths of our society that warn of summoning a demonic spirit, such as Bloody Mary. In Moroccan culture, no legend is more infamous than that of KANDISHA, the titular entity in French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo's latest foreign language subtitled venture.
The story begins by introducing us to the dynamic of the friendship of teens Amelie (Mathilde Lamusse), Bintou (Suzy Bemba), and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi). They've been spending their Summer vacation in abandoned buildings, creating ornate graffiti art while trading jabs at one another, and sharing stories of love interests and past relationships.
During one of these hangouts, Amelie discovers the name Kandisha scrawled on a wall, hidden beneath layers of coverings. The girls are vaguely familiar with the story behind the name, and discuss how reciting it aloud five times will evoke a vengeful demonic spirit who specifically targets men in an attempt to madden or kill them.
Later that same night, while walking home alone, Amelie is assaulted by her ex-boyfriend. While she manages to successfully fight back and flee, she is understandably distressed and traumatized. After arriving home safely, she utters Kandisha’s name, and soon after, her ex is discovered dead. Thus establishes the first victim in a bloody line of punishment enacted by the spirit.
KANDISHA is portrayed as a beautifully-veiled, topless woman with the legs of a camel, and she operates much like a succubus, in that she attempts to seduce men, before violently ending their lives. Once Amelie and her friends discover what's been conjured, they set out to find a way to stop Kandisha before she continues her reign of gory retribution. Unfortunately for them, the longer Kandisha is around, the stronger and more violent she becomes. And her primary focus of carnage is centered around their family and friends.
It's these emotional stakes, along with the realistic portrayal of the three girls, that are the movie's strongest elements. The sense of urgency felt as they desperately attempt to banish Kandisha, while being traumatized by the subsequent deaths of her victims, provides needed levity to the violence prevalent in the last half of the film. This is a movie that is going for shock value, and delivers it with unapologetic abruptness. It should be noted that if you are sensitive to the portrayal of the harming of animals, there is one disturbing scene of that nature.
There's an Arabic Proverb that says if you want to take revenge on a man, send him a beautiful woman, which could be the tagline for KANDISHA. At its core, this is about revenge, the lengths we will go to in order to get it, and the repercussions of the decisions we make in the height of emotional duress. Thankfully, there's enough impact from these points to provide entertainment value for those who are squeamish, and make us think twice before seeking vengeance on those who have wronged us.
KANDISHA is streaming exclusively on Shudder, starting July 22.