Candy Land


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Candy Land
"The characters are wonderfully drawn, each with their own complexities which go beyond their reasons for doing this job, and the acting is strong all round." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

What makes a job enjoyable? Good money, flexible hours, accommodation provided – all these things help the lot lizards of the truck stop known as Candy Land to overlook the downsides of sex work, the risks and the stigma. As in most other lines of work, though, what really matters is having good company. They have they regulars and shy new customers who treat them decently enough, and they have each other. Each one of them feels valued and respected by their colleagues; they have each other’s backs. They’re going to need that.

Though it gives way, in its second half, to the violence of a slasher movie, John Swab’s Candy Land starts out as an intimate workplace drama which feels almost like documentary in places. We spend a long time getting to know its protagonists and observing their dynamic. Not a moment of this feels like time wasted. The characters are wonderfully drawn, each with their own complexities which go beyond their reasons for doing this job, and the acting is strong all round. Owen Campbell is a standout as Leo, who aims for a cowboy hustler vibe and has an ongoing arrangement with the sometimes tender, sometimes abusive local sheriff (William Baldwin). Sam Quartin also shines as Sadie, a good humoured young woman who is always looking out for the others, and who takes a nervous newcomer under her wing.

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That newcomer is Remy (Olivia Luccardi), whom we first see riding in a van with local evangelist Theo (Brad Carter). When she turns up on the lot alone, apparently rejected by the devout religious cult of which she was a member, she seems singularly ill-equipped to survive. Sadie arranges for her to stay for a couple of days whilst she works out what she wants to do, but boss Nora (Guinevere Turner) doesn’t let much time pass after that without explaining that she’ll have to earn her keep. Their scene together is beautifully judged, perhaps exploitative, perhaps just practical, at any rate evocative of conversations which go on in other kinds of blue collar workplace every day. Remy is nervous but wants to make the right impression. Everyone assures her that it gets easier with practice.

Things take an abrupt turn when a bloodily mutilated body is found in one of the toilets. It’s assumed that this stems from a dispute between truckers, but could the sex workers be in danger too? Nerves begin to fray after a second killing, and the tension rises towards a bloody climax, with a final twist which illustrates that this isn’t the only dangerous way to live. Is the cheeky use of a certain Crowded House song during the credits a hint at a sequel? One almost hopes not, because the milieu here is so well constructed that it’s hard to see how it could be repeated.

Viewers should be aware that the film includes a distressing scene of sexual violence. It’s very well handled and not gratuitous, and it draws attention to an issue which is sometimes overlooked. Elsewhere the film gets seriously gory but sticks closer to conventional slasher territory. The difference is that because we have had so much opportunity to get to know the characters, it all hits home much harder. Debates over the morality of sex work fade in relation to the human element.

There will be some viewers who love the first half of this film and not the second, and vice versa, but bringing them together is an interesting artistic decision which allows Swab to push the limits of both genres. The result is a rare and intriguing piece of work.

Reviewed on: 05 Jan 2023
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Candy Land packshot
A seemingly naïve and devout young woman finds her way in the underground world of truck stop sex workers a.k.a. 'lot lizards'.

Director: John Swab

Writer: John Swab

Starring: Eden Brolin, William Baldwin, Owen Campbell, Olivia Luccardi, Brad Carter, Guinevere Turner

Year: 2022

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US

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