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Non-Review Review: Let Us Prey

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

Let Us Prey marks the feature film debut of director Brian O’Malley.

O’Malley certainly knows his stuff. Let Us Prey is visually striking and very well-directed. It is rich and memorable, perfectly capturing the eighties exploitation vibe that O’Malley is striving for. It isn’t too difficult to imagine Let Us Prey as a lost horror film from the eighties, with its synth-heavy soundtrack and vague paranormal underpinnings. O’Malley draws from a wealth of sources, but Let Us Prey feels most obviously indebted to the work of John Carpenter, feeling like a curious blend between Prince of Darkness and Assault on Precinct 13.

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Unfortunately, O’Malley confident direction can do little to conceal the obvious flaws in a clumsy script. While Let Us Prey has an obvious affection for classic schlock-fest horror films, the script feels more than a little lazy and generic. Horror films generally trade in tastelessness or tackiness – that’s a huge part of the fun – but there is no sense of technique in how Let Us Prey parades its own depravity. The “shock” elements feel cheap and half-hearted.

O’Malley is very much a director to watch, but Let Us Prey is saddled with a script that is far more horrifying than anything O’Malley can actually put on screen.

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The plot for Let Us Prey is pretty generic. A police station in Scotland finds itself under siege by paranormal forces just as Rachel Heggie begins her first day at her new assignment. A mysterious stranger is taken into custody at the same time as a young joyrider, and then all hell breaks loose, often quite literally. The mysterious stranger sits in his jail cell and starts playing with matches (sulfer, you see) as the world seems to fall apart around him. The sins of everybody in that Scottish police station are slowly revealed and the world seems to fall apart.

It is not a startlingly original premise. It is a bunch of characters localised around a relatively tight location as something sinister happens to them. It is not too difficult to imagine John Carpenter or Wes Craven having great fun with the premise. In the case of a horror like this, it is the execution that makes all the difference. Unfortunately, the execution of Let Us Prey leaves a lot to be desired. While O’Malley is clearly having a great time – and there are points where his enthusiasm is infectious – it is quite difficult to care about anything happening on screen.

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Inevitably, this small Scottish community is revealed as a den of inequity and horror. Everybody who sets foot in the police station seems to have some ghastly secret for the mysterious stranger to reveal. Of course, some of it feels just a little contrived and more than slightly tacky. It seems a coincidence that the stranger should arrive just at this particular moment, in the immediate aftermath of two fairly sizeable transgressions and the first day of a new police officer. There is a laziness to the script, which seems to suggest that copious gore is the solution to any plot hole.

It is never clear how directly the stranger influences events or personalities around him. The film seems to suggest that he has the ability to control others, but the script is unclear as to what degree his presence can be attributed to that nexus of horrific coincidence. After all, the mysterious stranger claims to embody divine retribution. “We’re not in the redemption game,” he boasts at one point. “We’re in the punishment game.” However, if he is punishing people for exercising (horrific) free will, it seems odds that he should then be able to negate that free will.

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Let Us Prey never feels too preoccupied with how any of this fits together. Instead, the movie seems to expect that shocking the audience is enough to sustain and maintain interest across its ninety-minute runtime. So the film casually tosses in all manner of gratuitous horror. The film is particularly enthused towards violence perpetrated against children, respecting that the taboo exists for a reason. Subjecting children to horrible things is a great way to generate an emotional response from the audience. However, Let Us Prey goes to that well once too often.

It doesn’t help that the writing is just terrible. Liam Cunningham does the best that he can with the dialogue afforded him. He gets more shivers with a few wry one-liners than the movie can elicit with buckets of gore. However, the script is so incredibly obvious about the identity of the stranger – without ever explicitly stating the identity of the stranger – that it feels like blunt force trauma. Cunningham’s character never actually winks at the audience, but he stops just short. And the final scene between Heggie and the stranger is so cliché as to be cringe-inducing.

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All of this is a shame, because the actual production of the film is quite impressive. O’Malley has a wonderful visual style that helps to sustain the movie even as the script just assembles another bunch of clichés to keep the plot running a few minutes longer. There is a palpable urgency to O’Malley’s direction and something unsettling about even his most sanitary visuals. When the time comes to deliver the gore and violence, O’Malley confidently steps up to the plate. The opening sequence is quite visually arresting, suggesting an altogether better horror film.

Special mention must be made of Steve Lynch’s atmospheric synth-heavy score that seems to play over every scene in the film. It is clear that O’Malley harbours a deep affection for classic eighties schlocky horror, and Lynch manages to produce something that feels like a tribute to John Carpenter’s own compositions. It is oppressive and uncomfortable in a way that often compliments O’Malley’s visual style. As with O’Malley’s direction and Cunningham’s performance, Lynch’s score feels like it was recovered from some better film.letusprey5

Let Us Prey is a film that is obviously nostalgic for eighties horror. Unfortunately, a terrible script means that it feels less like a nostalgic celebration of the genre’s better moments and more like a grim reminder of its general mundanity.

All audience members are asked to rank films in the festival from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, here is my score: 2

4 Responses

  1. It is evident by your review that you didn’t quite understand this movie.

    IMO, of course.

  2. I think when compared to other horror films out there it’s definitely not as bad as you make it out to be. As far as horror goes, I thought it was pretty decent. I think the genre is quite neglected in the regard that I rarely see an effective, well written film that genuinely scares me. I would love to know which horror films you really rate, out of curiosity.

    • Recently? The Descent, The Babadook, It Follows.
      Historically? The Shining, Ringu, The Thing, Audition, Halloween, Scream, The Mummy (Universal classics). Although Scream is more of a horror-comedy.

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