Director: Daniel Stamm
Cast: Virginia Madsen, Jacqueline Byers, Nicholas Ralph, Colin Salmon, Ben Cross, Christian Navarro
Runtime: 1 hr 33 mins
Rating: NC16 (Horror)
Released By: Encore Films
Opening Day: 27 October 2022
Synopsis: Once you know the devil, the devil knows you… Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers) believes she is answering a calling to be the first female exorcist… but who, or what, called her? In response to a global rise in demonic possessions, Ann seeks out a place at an exorcism school reopened by the Catholic Church. Until now these schools have only trained priests in the Rite of Exorcism – but a professor (Colin Salmon) recognizes Sister Ann’s gifts and agrees to train her. Thrust onto the spiritual frontline with fellow student Father Dante (Christian Navarro), Sister Ann finds herself in a battle for the soul of a young girl, who Sister Ann believes is possessed by the same demon that tormented her own mother years ago. Determined to root out the evil, Ann soon realizes the Devil has her right where he wants her.
“It wanted me. Because I was one of God's chosen soldiers...” – Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers)
The compendium of horror masterpieces that has pledged allegiance to exorcist theme is known to be extensive and October's spooky season translates to a hatful of horror movie treats.
Initially titled as The Devil’s Light, this motion picture was later renamed as Prey for the Devil, with a unique homophonic ring to the title and its theatrical poster is rather candid and forthright with no gimmicky oversell of the plot.
The narrative opens up with a little girl fervently praying in her room when her schizophrenic mom (Koyna Ruseva) bangs on the door, almost tearing it down. And this is ensued by a hair-raising scream. Fast forward to present day’s St Michael School of Exorcism in Boston, Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers) recounts her mom's depressive condition to be something that was beyond a mere medical diagnosis.
With rampant male clergies in the exorcism trade, nuns are expected to adhere to fulfilling the softer, feminine aspect of faith which is to simply act with mercy and pray for the affected parties. And any attempts of deliverance or exorcism of the possessed outside of the religious doctrine is labelled as unauthorised and unorthodox.
Perhaps writer Robert Zappia (Halloween H2O:20 Years Later) has decided to offer a completely fresh look on exorcism after growing immune to male saviours. Prey for the Devil has definitely broken the age-old, tiresome cycle of women being the possessed and male counterparts running to their aid. While the roles have not completely reversed, it certainly hits different like that hopeful ray of light at the end of a dark tunnel, given the gripping dialogues.
Directed by German film director and screenwriter, Daniel Stamm, who is known for his directorial ventures, The Last Exorcism and 13 Sins, the clever choice of exciting cast makes the horror-thriller even stimulating.
The plot follows Byers, the Canadian actress best known for her roles in Bad Samaritan, Salvation and Roadies, taking on a protagonist role as a junior exorcist, while breaking some hellbent rules and bones along the way. Even with the blurring of lines between the holy and unholy, Sister Ann sees past the demon and connects with the person's soul, hence being exalted as a one of a kind priestess.
With the School of Exorcism approved outside of the Vatican for the first time, Father Quinn, makes it an exception to risk it all for Sister Ann to be trained along with other priests. This pivotal role is played by Colin Salmon whom you may recall from Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day. Joined by Christian Navarro as Father Dante, who will mostly be recognised for his appearance in 13 Reasons Why, the plot is propelled deeper into the throes of the demonic possession. Prey for the Devil is also a posthumous release for Ben Cross (Cardinal Matthews) who is well-known for his roles in Chariots of Fire and the West End musical production, Chicago.
Although the trailer is a tad bit too long, summing up the entire plot and giving away most part of the narrative, the befittingly cool theme adopted by Lionsgate in the opening title sequence is undeniably dope and hard to miss.
Other classics that were dedicated to possession and exorcism such as The Exorcist and Amityville franchise, weigh in on the power of the vicar and a sacrifice that goes by a singular perspective of how nuns, priests and reverends are predominantly perceived. But Prey for the Devil that comes with layers upon layers, chose a different stance where the possessed too needs to do their part to overcome the lower vibrational emotions in order to defeat the demon within, thus creating a barrier for otherworldly entities to be attached to them. And this touch of freshness, shines enough light on a completely different side to these esteemed individuals. It reminds all that humans are humans, after all. It sure was a pleasure getting to know them outside of the sacred doctrine, beyond the cassock and veil.
With a somewhat unceremonious climax, the unpredictable 93-minute supernatural number explores the duality of priesthood with masculine and feminine, light and dark energies coming together to defeat the evil that feeds on shame and guilt. And a prequel or sequel is highly sensed with a dénouement that is likely to keep the audience at the edge of their seats.
Packed with terrifying elements and the perfect number of jump scares, Prey for the Devil gets us all geared up for an epic horror fest this year. Don’t forget to sleep with your night lights on.
(Expect a hairpin detour from the usual exorcism classics that we watched through our fingers in yesteryears. Slanting slightly more to being an intriguing thriller rather than just a paranormal genre, Prey for the Devil makes the perfect addition to the list of Halloween releases)
Review by Asha Gizelle Mariadas