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MOVIES: Prey for the Devil - Review

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Prey for the Devil is unfortunately, your standard horror movie affair that feels put together to capitalise on the Halloween movie-going audience and nothing else - slapdash, lazy and not gonzo enough to be entertaining - there are flashes of camp but to say it reaches Malignant level would be a lie and that's because this film feels torn between its two approaches, the sheer camp or framing this as a faux true story akin to The Conjuring, with text over screen emphasising the Catholic Church's practice of exorcism.

There's an interesting attempt to explore the difference between Priests and Nuns and how the Church operates in a horror concept, but the dynamic is very one-note and surface level. Our protagonist Ann, played by Jacqueline Byers, is thrust into a situation where she finds herself learning how to exorcise a demon from a child's body against the Church's wishes, and the obstacles that she faces from the traditions of her own organisation make for an interesting plot but the film almost feels afraid to criticise the practices of the Church itself; there are touches of Dan Brown in its conspiracy set up and the whole thing reminded me a bit of The Da Vinci Code in its pacing and structure - the emphasis on exposition above all else; drowning out any scares by telegraphing them several minutes before they happen rendering them mute and ineffective - there are no shocks and no surprises.

The whole thing feels perfectly predictable and perfectly plotted to leave little room for error. The plot you know where it's headed by the midway mark and one revelation too many puts it in stark coincidence territory at the best of times - the film never explains what the mysterious "voice" wants with Ann and why it's targeting her so aggressively. There's room for a sequel but the sequel bait is crafted so clumsily it leads to one of the most hilarious final horror movie scares in quite some time - tacked on at the end like it was supposed to be an end-credits scene that they then realised nobody would bother sticking around for so stuck it on at the end of the movie instead.

Characters aren't characters here, they're stereotypes. Colin Salmon is always reliable at giving a voice of calm authority and Christian Navarro's Father Dante has a sketchy past that is mentioned but not brought up again anywhere near as much as Ann's, which is the focal point for the whole narrative. I didn't care about these characters because the film never gave me a reason to - there are some one-liners about science vs. faith, but they're too unafraid to go anywhere near to the depth that say, The Wonder goes to calling out the malpractices of religion.

The best part of the film comes in the relationship between Byers and Posy Taylor's Natalie, and the film knows it - it spends the most time with these characters but the connection between them feels forced as with the film itself. It's loud, obnoxious and smashy in its jump scares - never leaning into the absurdity that it needed to. There's a couple of scenes towards the final act that show flashes of what this film could have been, but they're over too quickly and far too briefly. The hook that is meant to draw you in is that there's a school for priests to be trained in exorcism with cases rising around the world; and the film almost feels like a quasi-buddy cop movie that borrows from the same beats of that genre and places a Nun and a Priest together on the same team - things get real only when Ann is found to be disobeying the rules of her Church and has the equivalent badge removed from her - but by casting these characters as religious police it brings up whole new problems that the film doesn't really attempt to tackle.

The different roles that men and women are assigned in the Catholic Church is basically just tacked on and ignored in any great depth beyond the odd sly glances and animosity between characters. It could have been a fascinating human edge to the film that could have explored Ann's role in the Church more effectively but the film is afraid to commit to any one of its numerous ideas - glances between characters betray previous relationships but they're cut for time - and that's probably the biggest problem with this film, it feels aggressively cut for a short runtime under 100 minutes. Whilst it's over quickly it tackles too many ideas for its length - and the end result is a plot half boiled. Daniel Stamm's direction is muted and unable to give this anything more than the energy that you'll forget by the end of your journey home.

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