CW: Kandisha contains gore, abuse, animal death, and suicide.
Kandisha, a new Shudder Original Film that premieres July 22nd only on Shudder is a female-led horror film that acts as an especially brutal take on the urban legend subgenre.
Directors, Alexandre Bastille and Julien Maury (A L’intérieur, Leatherface) have a background in New French Extremity; a film movement characterized by, amongst other things, extreme violence. While not as intense as other films that have been attached to the movement (take, for example, Martyrs), Kandisha is still violent to a further extent than most horror movies, especially most urban legend movies.
the film follows three girls, Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), Bintou (Suzy Bemba), and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) as they face off against an evil spirit that is killing the men they love one by one. Part slasher film and part ghost story, Kandisha incorporates both elements by tying them together with an urban legend type story based on the Moroccan legend of Aïsha Kandisha, a beautiful woman with goat legs who lives near water sources and preys on men. The legend of Kandisha is first introduced while the protagonists are painting a mural of one of the girls’, Morjana’s parents who had died before the movie’s beginning. While painting, they find the word “Kandisha” written on one of the walls in the abandoned building they’re using for the mural. Morjana explains to Amélie and Bintou who Kandisha is and the girls begin to make fun of the idea of a spirit who comes when you perform a specific ritual.
Eventually, after a harrowing encounter with her ex-boyfriend leads to a physical altercation, Amélie summons Kandisha, resulting in the death of her ex and leading to further deaths as all of the men in the girls’ lives are killed one by one until only Amélie’s younger brother remains.
Aside from the level of gore, Kandisha has few characteristics that distinguish it from other urban legend-inspired movies. It’s far from being counted among the worst like The Bye Bye Man and Slender Man but it’s also not a standout like Candyman. At the same time, however, Kandisha isn’t trying to be more than what it is; it understands that it isn’t “elevated horror” (a term I loathe for reasons I won’t be getting into here), it’s a popcorn movie, something fun to see with friends, albeit with a bit more bite than one might expect.
One of the most interesting aspects of Kandisha is the way it escalates, slowly easing you in as the deaths get progressively more gruesome, only to show little of the final death; nothing more than a single shot from far away. While there are many gross moments, Kandisha never feels especially gratuitous. In fact, in a scene that shares similarities to a scene in Suspiria (2018) far less is shown in this version than in Suspiria’s. However, it’s still heard, and we do still see the blood from the kill as well as the reaction of an onlooker. Despite that, while time is spent lingering on the body of the victim, it isn’t an especially long time. None of the deaths are greeted with long shots of the aftermath, for most, it’s quick cuts after showing us just enough.
But that isn’t to say there’s not an aftermath of another kind shown on screen. Rather than spending long on the gore, Kandisha shows us the mourners. A shot of a memorial to one of the victims is shown, Amélie, Bintou, and Morjana discuss their grief with each other. There’s a focus on the toll that these deaths are taking more so than there is on the actual deaths themselves.
Kandisha succeeds in almost every respect up until the ending which, if I’m being entirely honest, feels a little bit like a sequel hook for a movie that decidedly doesn’t need a sequel. Kandisha is strong enough to stand on its own and I hope it continues to be standalone for that reason.