By Brendan Graham
Ah yes, another exorcism movie has arrived just in time for the Halloween season. As someone who isn’t religious at all, I go see these possession stories for the effects and for the atmosphere, and often find myself being disappointed when they don’t accomplish anything new, and rehash all of the same ideas but modernize them for newer audiences. I went into PREY FOR THE DEVIL with some optimism, but with fairly low expectations. Is it a good movie? No. Is it an entertaining movie? For the most part yes, but only if you’re willing to look past an undercooked story. PREY FOR THE DEVIL introduces us to Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers), a nun who assists at a catholic school for exorcism where the priests fight on the unholy battlefield, and the nuns are nurses to the potentially possessed. She starts sneaking into the male-only exorcism classes taught by Father Quinn (Colin Salmon), feeling a calling to learn the Rite of Exorcism because of her experiences with her mother when she was young. Her persistent need to learn more gets her invited into the class after she shows promising skills with a young girl Natalie (Posy Taylor) who is afflicted with a great, and familiar evil. As this evil entity begins to tighten its grip over Natalie, Sister Ann must gather her courage and prepare for the ultimate battle for not only Natalie’s soul - but also her own. I mentioned before that I go to these sorts of movies for the effects and atmosphere, and those are two things that PREY FOR THE DEVIL does actually deliver on mostly. There are a few sequences where the CGI looks a little questionable, but overall there are some quite nightmarish imagery that I greatly appreciated including a few sequences that involve hair. The sound design works well with the tone of the film too, taking good advantage of surrounding you with evil whispers and unsettling movement. The pacing of the film worked well, not taking too long to get the story going, which I appreciated quite a bit. The acting was also surprisingly good, with a strong performance from Jacqueline Byers as our protagonist, who brings some much-needed emotional depth to her character.
However, this movie commits some pretty primal sins. The screenplay dwells on telling, instead of showing and some of the dialogue comes off a bit cheesy at times. The story is incredibly basic and doesn’t strive to be anything beyond a mechanism to push us into the conflict. There’s a disturbing origin story with Sister Ann as a young girl, with some genuinely unsettling moments with child abuse from her mother, but the tension from that feels wasted. Some of the jumpscares feel quite cheap, relying on tried and true horror tropes too much, and there are some nonsensical logic leaps between all of the characters and their actions that had me scratching my head quite a bit. It wagers too much of the story on the gimmick of Sister Ann being the first female exorcist that it didn't spend enough time crafting a fitting finale. The last conflict feels underwhelming, and that may be the biggest sin of them all.
PREY FOR THE DEVIL manages to save itself from mediocrity with good performances and great use of effects, but if you’re looking for a well-crafted story that will chill you to the bone, you’ll want to look elsewhere. However, if you’re willing to overlook some major plot issues and cliche horror tropes, PREY FOR THE DEVIL was satisfying enough to make a cinema outing worth it, as I've seen far worse on the big screen. PREY FOR THE DEVIL is now playing in theaters.