Prey for the Devil (2022) Review
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES
A battle for a person’s soul in the endless war between God and the Devil. Tales of exorcisms and demonic possessions have always been a fascinated points of scary interest amongst individuals. The idea of believing that particular individual being possessed by an unholy spirit and seeing a priest (or other religious authority figure) summoning the strength and courage to banish the being from the conjugate physical form has been the stuff of nightmares. And yet, this particular practice of holy rites has been accounted many times throughout the ages. Accounts of such individuals under the influence of possession have varied, yet all speak of a malevolent force behind such acts, with the Prince of Darkness (Satan) feeding such demonic presence within a person. Of course, such tales have become an interest in cinematic representation, with Hollywood finding an interesting in showcasing possession and the challenge of exorcisms, including films like 1973’s The Exorcist, 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, 2010’s Exorcismus, 2011’s The Rite, 2016’s The Conjuring 2, amongst others. Now, Lionsgate and director Daniel Stamm present the latest film to examine the battle of demonic possession and the power of exorcisms in the movie Prey for the Devil. Does this feature spark an interest amongst this spiritual religious battle or is it a shallow and derivate attempt to depict God’s work against encroaching evil?
Throughout her life, Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers) has wrestled with the painful memory of her schizophrenic mother, unable to forget the abuse she endured while in her care. Although, she believed that her mother was possessed by wicked force that had taken hold of her…. heeding the voice inside her to torture the young girl. Since then, Ann has grown up with the need to help others, choosing to focus on the world of assisting the Church as nun within a Catholic School where the practice of exorcisms is practiced and taught by other priest in the spiritual battlefield against Satan’s malevolent evil. However, the Church has forbade women from practicing the sacred rite, leaving Anne to be an outsider in a place that specializes priest in such religious training. Ann’s duties are to attend individuals who come to the school, who might have demonic infliction upon them; finding a special connection, with a young girl named Natalie (Posy Taylor), a child possessed by the Devil who needs special care. Learning that the spirit inside Natalie finds a unique attraction with Ann, who seems share the same interest with as did the evil spirit that had possessed her mother long ago. Feeling that connection, Ann soon undergoes an unorthodox training in the realm of exorcisms, with encouragement from the school’s Father Quinn (Colin Salmon) and Dr. Peters (Virginia Madsen). Finding a kindred spirit in Father Dante, Anne steps up to battle the forces of darkness, with the young novice in the rite of exorcisms confronting her own secrets and failures, challenging her to overcome doubt and in an attempt to save Natalie from eternal damnation.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated many times before, I’m not really much a fan of horror movies. Yes, a few of them I do like, but the genre isn’t exactly my personal cinematic “cup of tea” for viewing entertainment. Although, the genre itself is starting to grow on me and I’ve started to appreciate these types of movies. Of course, tales of exorcisms and those particular nuances still give me the chills. I don’t know what it is about it, but it definitely gives me an unsettling feeling. Perhaps it’s because it deals with such religious stigma of good vs. evil. I mean…. a person who is possessed by a malevolent spirt / demonic host, who is causing an individual bend, twists, and crawls, in ways that seem unnatural as well as the guttural sound of speaking demonic speech. And then having a person of faith trying to exorcise evil presence with holy scripture and divine rite ceremony. It really has that spiritual battlefield mantra of God vs. Satan, and it all gives me a frighten feeling for my mortal soul. As I stated above, such an idea of possession and exorcisms has longed fascinated people (in a sort of dark and macabre way), which is probably why Hollywood studios have found a particular niche area to explore such a tale in a cinematic way. Of course, none is more famous than William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic The Exorcist, which (to this day) still scares the living hell out of me. Like many, it was my first movie that depicted such events of a person being possessed as well as being exorcised and it literally gave me nightmares (I remember I saw a few scenes when I was younger). Looking back, one really does have to appreciate Friedkin’s work on the movie and, while Hollywood has done other movies that depicted such religious sequences of exorcisms (a much notable representation in the Conjuring movies), 1973’s The Exorcist stands out as the most memorable one.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about Prey for the Devil, a 2022 horror movie and the latest film endeavor that shows demonic possession and practice of the exorcism rite. As I’ve watched the upcoming movies that are being released every so often, I do catch a horror movie that kind piques my interest to actually go seeing it. Prey for the Devil was such a feature. To be honest, though, I really didn’t hear much about it when it was first announced back in 2019 or even during its production back in 2020. The movie, which was originally set to be released at the beginning of 2021, before it was moved to February 11th, 2022, and then moved again for a firm final theatrical release date of October 28th, 2022. It was probably around April 2022 when I first got a glimpse of this particular horror film and I think first saw the film’s movie trailer when I went to go see Everything Everywhere All at Once. From the trailer alone, it definitely got me interested to see the feature, especially since it dealt with a more religious tone of Catholic faith so-called “armoring” its priests with the tools necessary for such hellish practice of performing exorcisms as well as the film’s main plot that seemed to focus on a Nun with a trouble past of dealing with a mother, who might’ve been possessed, as well as a young girl that needs to be saved from evil spirit within. To me, it looked like a solid horror flick, and I always remember seeing it during the “coming attractions” previews when I went for my weekly outings at the movie theaters. I mean…. I saw the preview a lot during the summer and early fall time period, especially if I went to go see a PG-13 or R rated feature. So, it goes without saying that Prey for the Devil got me “hooked” to see it during the end of October, which I did during its opening weekend. I did have to delay getting my review completed for it a few days after due to getting a few reviews out first. Now, I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on this horror movie. And what did I think of it? Well, it was just okay. Despite having an interesting concept nuances, a few intriguing story beats, and effective presentation, and several good performances, Prey for the Devil ends up a middling project that can’t come off as a predictable horror movie with only mild jump scares. It’s not as terrible as some are making it out to be, but it definitely isn’t all that was promised in the film’s marketing campaign.
Prey for the Devil is directed by Daniel Stamm, whose previous directorial works include such films as The Last Exorcism, 13 Sins, and A Necessary Death. Given his familiarity with horror films as well as the nuances of religious exorcism narratives, Stamm seems like suitable candidate for helming such a project as this film. With that in mind, Stamm approaches Prey for the Devil with a sense of knowledge of how to helm such a project that deals with demonic possession and holy exorcism rites. From the opening title crawl of the feature, Stamm sets the stage / mood of the feature, with proceeding text that talks about the practice of exorcism in the Catholic Church and how a large number of cases have arisen in recent years; finding Vatican looking to expand their practice of exorcism beyond their walls. It’s an interesting notion and further examined early in the movie, with the notion that “screening” individuals that are afflicted a round of psychological test to see if the so-called “possessed” is indeed in fact have spiritual host control them or are there borderline personality disorder / schizophrenia. Again, I found that to be an interesting concept in the movie, with Stamm making the case presented in the main character of Sister Ann and how her own personal dealings with her trouble d mother have a sense of duality within her plight. Maybe a small thing to examine and, while fully examined to its larger extent (more on that below), but it’s one that I found interesting more so than just the “run-of-the-mill” possession presentation.
Speaking of possession presentation, I do have to say that Stamm does a pretty decent job in staging such scenes. Of course, there are some problematic points of criticism in those said scenes that I’ll mention later on, but (in general terms) I found them to be quite effective. There were intense, shocking, and left me a slight unsettling feeling. Seeing body movement contort, move, and just plain unnatural ways of demonic possession were heavily utilized in these scenes and had more effective usage than some previous depictions of said exorcisms iterations. This also makes the purging of demonic spirits that much more interesting and has a large stake to play in the characters, which causes the scene to have more grit and action within. All in all, these sequences were chilling to watch and, while maybe a tad “over-the-top” still kept me glue to the screen and made squirm a little in my chair.
Also, I probably know that this probably could’ve gone into the presentation category, but I felt it was definitely one of the positive aspects of the feature…. the sound design / mixing. Part of the allure of horror movies, especially nowadays, comes from the effects that are utilized throughout the cinematic presentation. Of course, I’m speaking through the usage of sound and incredible mixing and editing that used throughout Prey for the Devil. The harsh and guttural almost otherworldly sounds of demonic possession are on full display and quite haunting / captivating to behold as I felt the encroaching evil rising in the various scenes that are depicted. This is in contrast to some other scenes in the movie, where the silent fills the air and can only hear the soft (terror-filled) breathing, the scratching on the walls, and the uneasy stillness of the “deep breath before the plunge” type nuances. The point I’m making is that the Prey for the Devil’s sound editing, and mixing team deliver some genuine creepiness and horrifying sounds that definitely help the feature’s more highlighted possession moments so engrossing and terrifying to watch (or rather to listen to).
In terms of presentation, Prey for the Devil is actually pretty good and definitely holds its own within its visual background aesthetics. As to be expected, horror movies don’t have a whole lot of expansive layouts of exotic locales or lavishing settings in foreign country, so I didn’t expect that with this movie. That being said, what is presented is actually quite compelling to look, with a lot of muted and faded coloring within almost every scene, which gives off a sense of dreariness. The settings inside the Catholic School, where majority of the film takes place in, looks quite magnificent, with its gothic architecture and biblical statues / portrays that really do look appealing and have that striking feature to the proceeding….as if the movie’s spiritual battleground is speaking through the background setting for the movie. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Jonathan McKinstry (production design), Lora Venkova (art direction), and Elena Stoyanova (costume design), for their efforts in making the film’s world have a very vivid and almost moody macabre feeling that speaks to both the horror genre as well as the darken foreboding of the narrative being told. Additionally, I do have to give credit to the movie’s makeup department, which was made up of Daniela Avramova, Milen Ivanov, and Anna Ivanova, that provide to be quite effective throughout the movie by showcasing some really good (and creepy) facial make-up that displayed demonic possession. Good job to them! Additionally, the cinematography work by Denis Crossan is also another big positive for the feature’s presentation, which utilized some slick camera work, shadowing effects, and lightning to make for some dramatic and cinematic moments come alive, especially in scenes that depict possession. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Nathan Barr also provides to another catalyst for the feature’s solid presentation dealings, with the musical composition setting the overall mood for the movie as well as building the unsettling eeriness and dramatic build ups.
Unfortunately, Prey for the Devil doesn’t live up to the inherit trailer / marketing hype that was promised, with several large points of criticism that hold the feature back from being truly memorable. How so? Well, for starters, the movie itself is quite predictable and a tad bit generic at times, which is somewhat disappointing…. to say the least. That’s not to say that the movie has its moments of brilliance and utter scary / creepiness, but the idea of a movie involving demonic spirits possessing a person and the performing the rite of exorcisms has done many times over in other similar horror feature films. So, it goes without saying, that Prey for the Devil plays up those familiar tropes and cliches that usually are customary with horror narratives that deal with such religious circumstance and nuances. However, as I somewhat mentioned above, those traits are a “double edge” sword and are both good and bad in the movie. Thus, the film’s more terrifying moments and even some of the bigger twist reveals are a bit mundane and can be a little predictable, with the movie not really deviating from an already well-established depictions of exorcisms paths. Basically, if you’ve one or two movies about exorcisms, you pretty much seeing what the depiction can go from there. This means that Prey for the Devil plays with the convenient manner of storytelling and hits a lot of familiar beats and plot points, with very little ingenuity or anything surprisingly creative. It’s been done before, which diminishes what the marketing campaign sort of promised for the film.
Who is to blame? Well, it’s combination of both the director (Stamm) as well as the feature’s script, which was penned by Robert Zappia, Todd R. Jones, and Early Richey Jones. Let’s take a look at the script, which is kind of humdrum when examining everything about the narrative. Of course, the story being told in the movie is kind of captivating, with a primary focus on a Nun and her special connection that she has with the Devil. It’s quite unique and that particular “hook” is what definitely sells the feature (as stated above), but that “hook” can only carry the story for so much. The problem is the story is a little bit “fast and loose” on what it wants to tell, with some plot holes and fragmented pieces littering the feature’s narrative. There are several elements that are left unfinished or fully said, a few discussions examination points that are fully brought to light, and handful of relationships (platonic and deeper) that left unanswered that give a bit problematic area throughout the movie. Perhaps the one that sticks out the most (to me personally) is that the movie opens up the discussion of the rising cases of possession in recent years, with the Catholic Church adapting to modern times and having patients examined for mental disorder. It’s stated and heavily implied to be a major discussing point in the movie, yet the script never fully delves into the debate. Another one is why the Devil is seeking a special attachment towards Ann as well the special connection that her and Natalie share, which does seem half-baked. It’s never fully explained and is kind of left me befuddling. There are a few others that the script doesn’t completely unfold in those plot points, which makes Prey for the Devil feel like some narrative pieces feeling fragmented and incomplete.
As for the directing, Stamm, tries as he might, has a few difficulties in trying to manage everything that is happen in the movie. He definitely knows what type of film he wants to tell, yet there still some shakiness and hesitancy in a few key areas. Perhaps the script (as mentioned above) was part of the problem, with his ambitions limited to what the movie’s written story was given, with Stamm’s scope minimize to what type of motion picture he could capture. From that stand point, there is a possibility in that, with the script for the feature hindering the overall direction / execution of the movie. On the flip side, Stamm’s staging of events can be problematic, especially in a few There is also the film’s climatic third act conflict that takes place. Yes, I did like a few of the tactics and direction of where the movie / characters were going, but a lot of it feels quite rushed, especially since everything happens in a so-called “rapid fire” sequence with very little time to digest what is fully going on and how the characters are developed in their resolution. This particular “wonkiness” during this portion of the movie feels like Stamm doesn’t adhere to time constraint of picture and somewhat mismanages the “time management” of what is going on. Because of this, Prey for the Devil’s third act comes off as rushed, messy, and a bit haphazard. Additionally, some of the movie’s jump scares are bit “meh”. It’s sort of a “give and take” with horror movies nowadays, with director wanting to saturate their cinematic narratives with a buttload of jump scare moments / tactics. Sadly, Stamm does that in Prey for the Devil and ends up being overused and becomes less effective as the feature moves forward within those scary sequences.
Perhaps what helps overlook the movie’s criticisms is in the cast selected to play all the various characters in the feature, with most give some stirring performances that feels appropriate in the narrative as well as in the horror genre. Leading the charge in the movie is actress Jacqueline Byers, who plays the film’s central protagonist role of Sister Ann. Known for her roles in Roadies, Salvation, and Bad Samaritan, Byers isn’t really a household name of actresses, yet her past works definitely speaks for herself, which is probably why she landed the lead role in this particular film. And that’s good thing! Byers handles all the material she’s given quite well, and we have a great performance in Prey for the Devil and makes her character of Sister Ann likeable and relatable throughout the entire feature. There is a warmth to her character (as seeing in her several interactions with the character Natalie), but also tainted darkness that holds her back due to childhood experience. Perhaps the only downside is not in Byers’s acting, but rather how the character is handled in a few instances, especially in exploring more of her past dealings with demonic possession within her mother. Her backstory definitely needs to be fleshed out more and could’ve been easily expanded upon for a more well-rounded understanding of Ann’s traumatic childhood. Still, looking past that, Byer is solid in the movie and makes for a convincing Nun, who is caught in the middle of a holy war between God and the Devil in the form of wanting to learn the practice of exorcism.
Behind her young actress Posy Taylor, who makes her theatrical debut with Prey for the Devil, makes for a convincing tortured individual in the character of Natalie, a young girl who has recently been possessed by evil spirt and has a special connection to Sister Ann. Despite not having prior experience, on such projects, Taylor handles her scenes quite well in the movie by capturing the duality nature of Natalie as a sweet young girl and the monstrous demonic possession when the evil spirt takes hold of her. Next, actor Christian Navarro (13 Reasons Why and Vinyl) does a decent job in playing the character of Father Dante, a priest who makes a connection with Sister Ann as the pair try to help save Natalie from being consumed by the evil spirt. As to be expected, the character of Father Dante is quite straightforward, so there’s not really much growth to him. That being said, I felt that Navarro gave a good performance to help elevate the character’s shortcomings. Lastly, actor Colin Salmon (Alien vs. Predator and Arrow) delivers a terrific performance in the movie as the character Father Quinn, the leading priest who studies / teaches exorcism rites to others. While the character is just a side supporting player in the film and is pretty straightforward in his position, Salmon handles the dialogue lines incredibly well and carries the weight and believability in talking about Authority of God, the spiritual battlefield, and the seductive powers of the Devil. I couldn’t think of anyone else to play such a character and easily chews through the lines of Father Quinn with grace.
The rest of the cast, including actress Virginia Madsen (Sideways and Candyman) as Dr. Peters, actor Nicholas Ralph (All Creatures Great and Small and The Most Reluctant Convert) as Father Raymond, actress Lisa Palfrey (Pride and Line of Duty) as Sister Euphemia, actress Cora Kirk (Midsomer Murders and Doctors) as Father Dante’s sister Emilia, and actor Velizar Binev (Hitman and The Grey Zone) as Father Bernhard, are delegated to minor supporting characters in the movie. Most of these players have only a couple of scenes in the feature, but I did like all of them in their respective roles. Lastly, actor Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire and Star Trek) who plays Cardinal Matthews in the movie passed away ten days after filming all his scenes for Prey for the Devil. Rest in peace, Ben Cross. You will be missed.
Once you know the devil, the devil knows you! A cautious warning that is echoed in Sister Ann’s mind as she valiantly tries to attempt to save a young girl’s life for demonic possession in the movie Prey for the Devil. Director Daniel Stamm’s latest film takes an examination of the horrors of demonic possession and the religious ways of how exorcisms must be conducted to save a person’s soul. Unfortunately, while the movie makes for a strong interpretation of such material, several effective chilling scenes, a solid presentation, and some good performances (most notable in Beyers and Salmon), the rest of the movie doesn’t quite click as much as intended, especially from some sluggish pacing issues, a few non-jump scares, confusing storytelling elements, a couple of missed opportunities, and some wonky decisions. Personally, I thought that the movie was okay. Yes, it had a few good moments where I think the movie was terrifically frightening, but a lot of the film’s substance is a bit middling and doesn’t really live up to what was promised. It’s not bone-chilling like any of the Conjuring movies or memorable like the original Exorcist, but it’s not as terrible as some are making it out to be. Still, the movie is just okay. Thus, my recommendation for the movie might be either an “iffy choice” as some will like, while others might be a bit disappointed or just a watchable “rent it” for those who are looking to catch this movie sometime later on. No really rushed to see it in theaters. In the end, while the lure and fascination of possession and spiritual discussions of God and the Devil’s work will continue to be a focal point in the subject matter of horror, Prey for the Devil is project that has its intention on the right path (and does get somethings right), but gets befuddled within its own storytelling and execution, making this tale of religious rites and demonic spirits a tad underwhelming.
3.2 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Rent It)
Released On: October 28th, 2022
Reviewed On: November 4th, 2022
Prey for the Devil is 93 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing content, terror, thematic elements, and brief language