Interview With Director Sean Byrne
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by: Jerry Smith
First winning genre fans over with his 2009 film, THE LOVED ONES, director Sean Byrne is set to return on March 17th with the heavy metal-filled, Satanic possession meets home invasion flick THE DEVIL'S CANDY. The film, which is set to be released to limited theaters, VOD and iTunes follows Jessie (CHEAP THRILLS' Ethan Embry), a metal-loving painter who has to fight to save his wife and daughter from various forces, both spiritual and physical. It's a wild ride, filled to the brim with one hell of a soundtrack and quite a few memorable performances.
We recently had a chat with Byrne to talk THE DEVIL'S CANDY, it's themes and his love for metal.
There's an interesting light vs. darkness theme that's going on in THE DEVIL'S CANDY. What inspired you to take that approach?
It was partly inspired by what I didn’t want to do. As much as I love all the supernatural sub-genres, I’d seen enough of zombies and vampires to last me a while. I knew I wanted to explore a less overt and more personal supernatural struggle, harking back to classics like Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and The Shining but with a modern, metal edge. I just didn’t know what framework to use. Then my wife became pregnant with twins and I was gripped by this fear of bringing children into the world. Suddenly the world seemed a more dangerous place. It’s the job of a parent to preserve their child’s innocence, to protect them from the dark. So I guess in an allegorical sense Pruitt Taylor Vince's Ray character became representative of the dark and young Zooey, played by Kiara Glasco, became representative of the light. And Ethan Embry's Jesse, Zooey’s dad and hero of the story, symbolizes the struggle all decent parents face to make sure our children aren’t swallowed by the dark in its various forms.
Back in 2015, when the film screened at Fantastic Fest, one of the producers mentioned how many versions the script initially went through before deciding to focus on the story of a metal loving painter father and his love for his daughter. I'm curious about what led you to want to inject the very unique angle of Jesse and his art into the film?
I was unhappy with my career at the time. I couldn’t get the version of the film as it was off the ground and to pay the bills had taken on a few page one rewrites which chewed up a couple of years to no avail. I’d also written treatment after treatment and nothing was sticking. It was a classic case of being stuck in development hell. So I decided to come back to my own script and channeled that frustration into the Jesse character. By making him an artist unable to sell his own work and frustrated with the bland commissions he’s forced to take to on I had a way in. I also thought the artist angle would help sell the idea that Jesse is somehow capable of tuning into the surrounding darkness and the maddening puzzle it represents. I’ve always been fascinated by artists like Francis Bacon who manage to capture a genuine hell within. Where does that come from? What takes them over to the point time disappears and all that’s left is this compulsion to expel a nightmare from your system? I also thought making him an artist would equate to a kind of crossroads story: what would you sacrifice to be the best at something, to fulfill your dream? In many ways the film is about career versus family, the love and primal fears of a father, and choosing what’s most important in life.
THE DEVIL'S CANDY is not only a Satanic possession film but also a very terrifying home invasion film as well. Were you ever nervous about combining the two subgenres into one story? It works perfectly.
Thanks. It’s come up a few times, this balancing of subgenres. To be honest it wasn’t a conscious decison. It’s just where the story led me. Ray’s hearing voices, he’s scared and defenseless against them so he returns to his old home, the only comfort he knows. There he sees Zooey and the voices are telling him she’s the one so of course at some point he’s going to return for her. Hearing voices and acting upon them could be described as possession and coming after Zooey leads to home invasion. Luckily I wasn’t nervous about the blend because I wasn’t aware I was doing it!
The casting of the film is great, it's awesome to see Shiri Appleby and especially Ethan Embry who I think gives his best performance to date. What inspired you to approach them?
The producers Keith and Jess Calder had recently co-acquired Cheap Thrills starring Ethan. They knew I was looking for an alternative type of father figure who the audience would believe as both a loving father and a haunted soul. I watched Cheap Thrills and loved it then checked out the rest of Ethan’s filmography. It was clear from both Cheap Thrills and Brotherhood he could play damaged and his early films like Can’t Hardly Wait, Empire Records and That Thing You Do! showcased the warm, playful side integral to Jesse's relationship with his daughter, which is the emotional cornerstone of the film. Then I met him and found out he was into metal so it was like the planets aligning!
We cast Shiri pre-UnReal. I wan’t super familiar with her work before meeting her. She’s lovely, pragmatic, whip-smart, and a wonderful mom so naturally ticked all the boxes for Astrid and then some. When they read together, Shiri and Ethan were immediately riffing off each other, improvising jokes like they’d been friends for years. It just felt like a real relationship rather than a movie relationship if you know what I mean.
You're obviously very into heavy metal, something that the film wears on its sleeve very proudly. As a fan, were you ever blown away by how many great bands contributed songs to THE DEVIL'S CANDY?
I think I’m still in a state of disbelief. Not sure I can recall another indie with such a heavyweight soundtrack. Jonathan McHugh, our music supervisor, did a remarkable job. I mean Metallica, Slayer, Pantera, Queens of the Stone Age just to name a few. It’s crazy.