Owen Campbell, Olivia Luccardi, Sam Quartin, Virginia Rand, and Eden Brolin in Candy Land (2023)

‘Candy Land’ movie review: Grindhouse meets arthouse in offbeat truck stop treat

A group of truck stop sex workers adopt a runaway from a religious cult in Candy Land, a low-budget but often engrossing little flick now available on VOD platforms worldwide. Bolstered by some strong central performances, this one successfully merges 1970s grindhouse sleaze with contemporary indie film sensibilities.

Written and directed by John Swab (Ida Red), Candy Land stars Sam Quartin as Sadie, a sex worker who haunts a midwest truck stop alongside girlfriend Liv (Virginia Rand), chatty Riley (Eden Brolin), and Levi (Owen Campbell). They live at the locale in motel rooms by the diner, and serve under seasoned madam Nora (Guinevere Turner).

A passing religious sect leaves them a few flyers and a little something extra: young runaway Remy (Olivia Luccardi), who says she can’t go back to her family and is easily urged into the life of a prostitute.

But Candy Land isn’t an expose, and as the gang shows Remy the ropes – the different types of customers among the truckers, and associated terminology – there’s a light-hearted, matter-of-fact presentation to the depiction of these characters and the world they inhabit that feels in line with a 90s American indie a la Clerks.

And then the bodies start piling up, with a murderer making corpses out of truckers and Sheriff Rex (William Baldwin) quickly out of ideas and eager to sweep them under the rug. Candy Land doesn’t seem to have much of a budget for gore effects, but makes the most out of what it’s working with; a climactic sex scene that drenches its participants in blood is a highlight.

The identity of the murderer isn’t much of a secret, and Candy Land doesn’t keep us guessing: there’s a twist to the narrative about halfway that refocuses the story and queasily aligns the audience with the killer. A breezy tone and the promise of sex and violence draws you into the narrative, but the climactic scenes have a sense of raw power that seems far more ambitious than a film of this caliber should have aimed for.

Candy Land works thanks to the steady hand of director Swab and some truly committed central performances from its young cast. Luccardi (It Follows, The Deuce) is especially engaging in a difficult role, but Quartin, Brolin (daughter of Josh), and Campbell (recently seen in Ti West’s X) are all solid in support.

A movie about truck stop sex workers getting carved up was always going to be exploitative and sleazy, but Candy Land embraces what it is and builds upon it. This one ends up far better than it has any right to be.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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