Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits the ass-kicking, heavy metal horrors of Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy.
Sean Byrne is a filmmaker who we would love to see making more films. His debut feature came out eleven years ago, and his second film is already half a decade old, but both The Loved Ones (2009) and The Devil’s Candy (2015) remain absolutely brilliant slices of horror cinema. They’ve appeared on three of our 31 Days of Horror Lists entries too — Best Australian, Best Sophomore, and Best Heavy Metal — so yeah, we’d love to see more.
The Devil’s Candy is a tight, intense, and tension-filled descent into hell for one of the genre’s most lovable families, and Byrne’s commentary touches on all of that. We gave a listen and made some notes, so keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…
The Devil’s Candy (2015)
Commentator: Sean Byrne (writer/director)
1. One of Byrne’s “pet hates” in horror movies is when the spooky houses look “dilapidated and scream ‘something bad’s happening in here!’ and yet no one goes and investigates.” It’s why the nightmare house here looks “warm and inviting.”
2. He’s been a big fan of Pruitt Taylor Vince since seeing him in James Mangold’s debut feature Heavy (1995). “I don’t think any other actor kinda can represent the child inside like Pruitt can,” he says, adding that the character of Ray is a weak man overridden by evil.
3. He wishes more people had been able to see the film in a theater as the sound mix makes “the foundation shake.”
4. The title font with the words filled with fire is meant as a bit of foreshadowing to where the film is heading.
5. He was keen to create a believable dynamic between his family of three, and you’d be a fool to argue he hasn’t succeeded. The goal in part was to “dispel the myth that alternative families are unlike traditional families.” Their shared love of heavy metal doesn’t make them any less loving as a family.
6. The film in part is an exploration of Byrne’s own guilt at leaving his family behind for long stretches of time while working.
7. “You can interpret this film in many different ways,” he says, adding that he considered not doing the commentary track to avoid muddying the waters with his own. He’s seen some people label Ray’s journey as a metaphor for mental illness while others see it as a literal possession, but “obviously I have my kind of thoughts.”
8. “The lighter they are at the beginning, the further there is to travel to get to the jet black darkness,” he says regarding his effort to make the family likable, friendly, and clearly in love with each other. They’re good people, and Byrne’s work makes viewers care immensely about their impending fates.
9. He doesn’t include character background detail in the film, but he discusses it with the actors. For Ray, he told Vince that as a boy his father probably tried different things to connect with him, from LEGOs to model airplanes, but it was only the electric guitar that worked to “block out the voice of the devil.”
10. People have asked why Ray wouldn’t just wear headphones “which is a good point,” but Ray’s problem-solving skills are non-existent.
11. They auditioned some more well-known actors for the role of Zooey, but it was relative unknown Kiara Glasco who blew them away and quickly landed the role.
12. Nick Cave’s brilliant and dark song “Red Right Hand” was an inspiration for The Devil’s Candy.
13. The artwork in the film was painted by Stephen Kasner, “a wonderful artist and member of the Church of Satan.” He adds that “We really went as close to the source as we could.” Kasner would send him texts while working on the large master painting for the film saying only “He’s close, I can feel him, he’s upon me.”
14. Vince originally turned down the role as he was receiving an abundance of mad/villainous roles, but Byrne wrote him “an impassioned letter” explaining how he needed someone capable of playing “the lost child trapped inside the monster.” It worked.
15. Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, used to send embossed cards to artists and others who he felt were doing good work in spreading the word. They would read “Satan approves,” and no, there aren’t currently any of them available on eBay.
16. Red and black as costume colors are indicative of the Satanic presence, so Ray’s track suit continues that trend. The thin white line along the arms represents the child within.
17. The child kicking and writhing in the blanket carried by Ray is actually a mechanical figure.
18. He praises numerous people among his cast and crew, but he has a special soft spot for his leads adding that “if you don’t care then you don’t scare.” While both of his features are horror movies, that’s not specifically what he sets out to make because “theoretically, there should be no more dramatic genre than having characters that you love and depicting them literally in moments between life and death.” While most horror films manage to deliver the “horror” elements just fine, too often they neglect the inherent drama of dropping likable characters into that situation.
19. The “voice” of Satan can be heard in the cell phone static when Jesse (Ethan Embry) is trying to call his daughter after the tire blowout.
20. The producers of Cheap Thrills (2013) were the ones who suggested Embry for the role saying that he had some untapped darkness within that his warmer, more comedic roles weren’t taking advantage of.
21. “They say never work with children or animals,” but having worked with both it was the duct tape that gave him the biggest headaches. “It was a mathematical equation unto itself.”
22. Producer Jessica Calder suggested they include a scene of Jesse destroying the painting — choosing family over the art — but as they didn’t have Embry at that point they shot the scene using a double.
23. The musical track during Ray’s end assault on the house is titled “TMFBSI” which is based on Byrne’s direction to composer Michael Yezerski as to what he wanted for the scene. It stands for Totally Mother Fucking Bat Shit Insane.
24. He wanted the action and violence of the home invasion to stand out and knew his way to go was different from the norm. Something like John Wick (2014), he adds, has amazing choreography and style, “but I can’t do that.” He’s instead a fan of crafting messy, awkward, human, character-driven violence.
25. People have asked if Jesse’s rise up after being shot is a hint of resurrection, but Byrne was actually only thinking about how movies so frequently kill characters immediately with a single gunshot that doesn’t hit the head or heart. “It takes a lot of bullets to stop a man, so that’s how I justify it. And it’s a movie.”
26. Jessie “slays the demon with the ax” — the electric guitar — and it’s Byrne’s homage to great guitar heroes of the past from Angus Young to Pete Townsend and beyond.
27. Zooey leaping from the bed through the fire represents the rekindling of her trust with her father after his failure earlier.
28. The final shot of Embry looking skyward suggests his realization “that there are potentially forces greater than him in the world on both sides.”
29. Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is the track that kicks off the end credits, and Byrne can’t thank the band enough. They watched and enjoyed an early cut of the film (“I was shitting myself.”) and then offered the song at a very reasonable rate. “Once you have The Beatles of metal on your side all the other bands joined in and allowed us to get a really great soundtrack.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Hi, this is Sean Byrne, and you’re listening to 666 FM, otherwise known as director’s commentary.”
“I wanted to fly the flag for metal fans who are often depicted as buffoons or cartoonish.”
“I’m not a big fan of exposition in films.”
“I was loathe to do a commentary.”
“That murder paint scene is one of my favorites in the film.”
“This moment is very much inspired by Cinderella.”
For as often as Byrne mentions his love of Michael Haneke films, The Devil’s Candy once again shows his preference for a hopeful ending. The film remains an intense ride even knowing that — and even with the commentary track on! — and the guy really needs to get a third feature film made. His commentary is an informative and engaging listen as he praises his accomplices and discusses his intentions. Buy the film (and the soundtrack), and give it a listen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.