Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"As a straightforward horror movie, Kandisha doesn't have much to offer that we haven't seen before, but as a social drama it's much stronger"

Every generation has its own version of the urban legend about a spirit - usually drawn from someone who was horribly mistreated in life - which can be summoned by repeatedly speaking its name. Doing so is never a good idea, but there's always somebody ready to try, often just for a joke or a dare. Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse) has a better reason. Not when she first speaks the name, messing about in a derelict building where her friend tells her the legend of Kandisha, but later, after she has been assaulted by her ex-boyfriend, when she's boiling over with anger, scrawling a pentagram in blood on the bathroom wall. Then she really means it. Of course, she has no comprehension of what it will cost.

Aicha Kandicha, a figure drawn from Moroccan folklore, is a spirit of vengeance, a wronged woman who uses her beauty to seduce men before killing them - when she's not just growing into a giant and crushing them. She wastes no time in taking out Amélie's ex but does it in such a way that it's not obvious that foul play was involved, so when Amélie hears of it she knows it could be a coincidence. When another of her male friends dies in horrific circumstances, however, she becomes convinced that it's because of what she did. Fortunately her friends Bintou (Suzy Bemba) and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) are willing to listen, but even if they all work together, it may not be enough to stop a spirit who is slowly working her way through the men and boys they love.

As a straightforward horror movie, Kandisha doesn't have much to offer that we haven't seen before, but as a social drama it's much stronger. The milieu in which the story takes place is beautifully drawn. Bored, disaffected teenagers stumble through chaotic lives finding joy where they can. Astute dialogue and fresh, natural performances capture that moment in life when they're discovering their power but still have a very limited understanding of consequences. Older family members are kept at a distance but that doesn't betoken an absence of love. The bond between the three girls is everything, and they way it's played out lets us understand, right from the start, that snide though they often are, they would do anything for each other. That mutual investment makes it easier for viewers to care about them too and to be caught up in an approach to life which is vital and urgent even before there's supernatural terror to deal with.

Kandisha's landscape of ruins, tower blocks, suburban prefabs and shady underpasses also lends it character. It's immersive, a complete world, not just padding for the central story. We understand where Amélie's frustrations come from and why staying out after hours matters, why parties on rooftops and petty battles for status are such a big deal. The rhetoric of jobs and chores and responsibility has little impact because these young people understand that their world is broken. The question is, how will they live with that knowledge? The desire for revenge won't just go away. The blood on the bathroom wall is just the start.

Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2021
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When a teenager summons a spirit to avenge an assault, she unwittingly unleashes a terrible curse.
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Director: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury

Writer: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury

Starring: Mathilde Lamusse, Walid Afkir, Suzy Bemba, Bakary Diombera, Sandor Funtek

Year: 2020

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: France


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