Prey for the Devil – Review

I love an exorcism movie. Where my faith has eroded my fascination with this type of horror has evolved into a bit of an obsession, even at one point attempting to be an outside observer for one in-person session (turns out that’s not a thing except for under VERY specific circumstances and not for a curious atheist). Each new bit of exorcism cinema is something to cherish, good or bad, and I know that clouds my ability to be objective.

When Prey for the Devil dropped its first trailer, then called Light of the Devil, I got very excited. Sure, it looked pretty basic outside of the “it’s a girl doing the exorcism this time” schtick, but it was my kind of horror and is something to be happy about. The addition of Colin Salmon to the cast was a pretty exciting thing, but I was drawn in particular to director Daniel Stamm. This guy’s name was made with The Last Exorcism, released over a decade ago to the adoration of a great many horror fans, and he’s done…well, not much since. His return to the subgenre was enticing, an event, and I was very excited to see his latest offering.

Enter Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers), a nun in her mid-twenties that is transferring to an exorcism college. The Catholic Church has considered the number of real possessions to have risen significantly, pushing them to move their training schools beyond just the Vatican and into places like Massachusetts. I buy it, and it’s delivered bluntly in the film’s opening title card so that we can just accept and move on. Ann isn’t allowed to perform the rite herself, as the Church’s practices always skew towards favoring men, but she is allowed to assist the other Sisters as a nurse. She sneaks into classes taught by Father Quinn (Colin Salmon), much to his delight and head Sister Euphemia’s (Lisa Palfrey) dismay, but she only tells her reasons to the staff psychologist – Dr. Peters (Virginia Madsen). Turns out Ann is a survivor of abuse and an orphan, left behind by a mother that killed herself after years of cruel and frightening behavior toward her daughter. Our good Sister Ann believes this to have been the result of possession, but all doctors claimed schizophrenia and wrote it off. This is an exorcism movie so you can see where that will lead without much guidance, but Ann’s journey is a bit more complicated. Her burgeoning friendship with young Natalie (Posy Taylor) is complicated by the fact that the young girl is there under suspicion of possession. The demon in the child may or may not have been following Ann all her life and may or may not be only using the girl to get to her.

We’ll see, won’t we?

I’m being glib, but the plot of this film isn’t the reason to watch it. We’re all here for the same reasons and we shouldn’t deny it. We’re here for jump scares, body horror, Catholic devotees reciting prayers, and the sizzle of skin as holy water strikes it. We want Stramm to play the hits and the director delivers, giving us about as much exorcism jargon and horrors as you can wedge into a PG-13 horror flick. Posy Taylor is asked to do quite a bit (much of which is augmented with CGI), but she rises to the challenge and manages to deliver both a creepy kid and a serviceably charming one in different scenes. These moments are the real winners of the flick, containing an uncanny valley to behold and a kid working their damndest to scare the hell out of the jumpy audience. I didn’t come here for nuance, subtle dread, and terror – I came to leap in my seat. Most will have fun with the popcorn fare despite the lack of anything deeper than the idea that guilt and shame are things the Catholic Church wants you to think about.

Beyond the shock, beyond the Catholicism, and even beyond the genre…this is just a fun watch. Twenty years ago this would have found an audience in Blockbuster and playing on basic cable that would have led it to be a loved movie for many, but in the era of immediate gratification and high demand for content, it could suffer. Luckily horror fans are possessive, defensive, adoring, and willing to watch almost everything in their chosen genre. I don’t see Prey for the Devil becoming a hit, but I think it’s going to have its fans and I would honestly count myself among them. It’s an okay-but-entertaining film that delivers on that level. I can’t deny that I had a blast with it despite there being unresolved elements. Why is there horny energy between Christian Navarro and Jacqueline Byers? No one knows. What exactly is going on with Virginia Madsen’s character by the end? Nope, don’t even try to hope for a resolution on that one. And what exactly is going on with the demon that desperately wants to possess Ann? Again, you won’t find answers. The film isn’t interested in being anything deeper than a fun, schlocky exorcism movie. I appreciate that, and I think it delivers on its promises.

Prey for the Devil is currently playing in theatres.


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