Prey for the Devil Synopsis: Nun Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers) prepares to perform an exorcism and comes face to face with a demonic force with mysterious ties to her past.
Amidst an all-male Catholic school entrenched in the studies of supernatural exorcisms, Sister Ann vyes to become the first female in centuries to receive acceptance from her peers as an exorcism expert. Sister Ann soon discovers that her trial case may hit closer to home than expected in the latest horror feature, Prey for the Devil.
The Halloween season is an apt time to indulge in some sinister scares – although the holiday can often deliver its fair share of trite tricks (the Paranormal Activity franchise quickly ran out of gas) and taunt treats (the Saw franchise became a beloved late-October staple).
As the latest attempt to cash in on the season, Prey for the Devil lands in a beige middle ground. Despite bolstering sincerity and competence in its pursuits, the film struggles to exercise the cliched demons haunting its runtime.
I will defend Prey for Devil for presenting more ambition than its disposable marketing campaign lets on. Some have trashed the film as a devout propaganda piece for the Catholic church, but I think the film captures the religious entity in a far more damaging light. Director Daniel Stamm and screenwriter Robert Zappia boldly paint Sister Ann as an ignored voice in a homogenized male community. Along with the restrictive gender norms, the church operates under rigid restrictions, preaching a unified message that sweeps some troubling developments under the rug.
Stamm, who helped present a similarly verbose religious critique with his 2010 breakout The Last Exorcism, also remains a compelling voice behind the camera. He draws several unnerving sequences from his imaginative effects work and well-tempered sense of delivery. The dim, shadow-ladden church halls that he and cinematographer Denis Crossan conjure become an atmospheric backdrop as Stamm uncorks a slew of engaging scares.
Prey for the Devil is fittingly sleek as an airtight, scare-a-minute feature. However, the film’s straightforward approach becomes a dual-edged sword. Several of the religious ruminations in Zappia’s screenplay fail to take flight, often sinking under the weight of didactic exchanges and a lack of meaningful insights. The shading of promising concepts ultimately feels like an unfulfilling tease of what the film could’ve become.
An overwhelming lack of personality also plagues Prey for the Devil. A few desperate twists and the film’s self-serious delivery represent promising yet ineffective tools for injecting some gravity into a lifeless narrative. Star Jacqueline Byers deserves credit for enacting some life into Sister Ann’s crusade, and co-star Colin Salmon possesses a dynamic presence as her reluctant teacher. It’s just a shame that neither actor nor the sufficient cast finds much success inside a narrative that contently goes through the motions.
Prey for the Devil jockeys between moments of inspiring craft and cliched contrivances. I don’t think the puzzle pieces come together as intended, although the film should work capably enough as a streaming option for horror-obsessed fans.
Prey for the Devil is now playing in theaters.
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