EIFF 2014 Review 2: ‘Let Us Prey’
The following review does contain some strong language. I would apologise but I was pretty psyched when I wrote this so take the cursing to be a good thing.
Basically the film gets a F*ck Yeah out of 10.
Let Us Prey has sold me on watching genre movies at next year’s Festival, the audience was a big factor in my enjoyment of this film cause they added to the sheer bloody entertainment of it all – for Christ sake they applauded at one point, I’ve never been at a film where people applauded before. I had no thoughts on the film going in and expected a straight up horror, what I got was so much better and stands as one of the most entertaining films of the year.
The plot’s not all that original but what is in horror these days, the film doesn’t reinvent the wheel nor did it set out to, it’s just a device to move the characters closer to the bloody end. The best way to describe the film would be a demonic version of Assault On Precinct 13, set nearly entirely in this small-town police station in Ireland all throughout five hours one night. Starting with the arrival of a mysterious stranger to the small town a series of events unfold to bring the wretched and the sinful and the damned together to this one place in order to be judged.
Slowly but surely, through fear of what sins this strange man knows they committed, the cops and criminals both start to lose their minds as the midnight hour approaches fast, realising that they’re no escape from themselves, the survivors band together in order to make it through the night and hopefully come out clean on the other side.
The prison setting is very reminiscent of the aforementioned Assault On Precinct 13 and the inclusion of retributions, sins, fate and hellfire all forcing these characters together in order to be judged shows a great underlying force that draws in the tension. Religion is a big theme of the film and it tackles that exceedingly well, going real Old F*cking Testament on us without feeling like it’s being deliberately sacrilegious.
The characters were all great and the differing sins they all had added to the twisted enjoyment of it all. There was two distinct groups in the film, the cops and the criminals, and honestly it was hard to tell who was worse. On the criminals side was Doc Hume, a medical practitioner who seemed to be on the good side at first until his dark and bloody secret came spilling out. Quite literally in fact.
Fans of Only An Excuse will recognize Jonathan Watson as Beswick, an ex-teacher and current wife beater constantly in prison for the abuse he hands out to his spouse only to be constantly let off when she drops the charges. Beswick is very creepy but also pretty humorous, he starts off as Hannibal Lecter but with much less patience for arseholes and his put-downs to Caesar are pretty damn funny.
Speaking of which, Caesar comes into the film with a bang, or rather a crash as he drives his car straight into The Stranger. Caesar – or Francis as he’s actually named – is one of the directionless f*ckwads with no hope and no future, we know it and he knows it, he talks a big game and tries to appear as if he doesn’t give a shit. That is until his own sins start to haunt him, or rather sin as there’s one big thing he did near the start of the film, he’s given a chance to repent but fear holds him back, the change from big-mouthed smart-arse to cowardly and terrified young man is quite interesting to see but it makes a lot of sense.
On the opposite side of the fence were the cops, now I’ve seen some corrupt police but these lot take the f*ckin cake (but all in the name of the insanity of this movie). Partners James Warnock and Jennifer Mundie were both having an affair with each other and enter the film screwing each other on the job (side-note, Mundie: Pretty hot) and that’s only the beginning of their problems. We soon find out that the two of them have a murderous sense of justice and frequently act as Judge, Jury and Executioner for the worst scum brought in to their cells. They’re immediately at odds with new officer Rachel and try to bully her to their way of thinking, both were some sick individuals, taking their sense of duty a little bit too far, and both made for a great villainous double-team.
But neither of them had anything on their boss, Sergeant Macready (wait a minute, Macready… holy shit that’s a Thing reference, awesome). I don’t want to give too much away about Macready since he’s one of the most interesting and downright entertaining characters in the film but most of that is because of how shocking he is when you find out his secret hobby. To put it in the least spoilering way I can, Macready is a very religious man but one that believes in retribution and punishment, that area of the Bible. He punishes those he deems wicked, including himself at times, and the arrival of The Stranger makes him believe the end-times have come and he must take action. The moment the audience cheered was when Macready returns to the station, you’ll know it when you see it.
The only two characters not on either side were the two leads, technically Rachel Heggie (played by Pollyanna McIntosh who genre fans might recognise as The Woman from the film, The Woman) is a police officer but she doesn’t share the bloody justice that her team deals out. What makes Rachel great is that while the rest of the cast seem to be going through hell and back in order to be deemed worthy, Rachel’s already been to hell, she was kidnapped and repeatedly abused as a child and became a cop to punish the guilty in her own way. She’s been forged in the fire and is more than ready to take motherf*ckers out, her people skills need help and even with her traumatic past these guys aren’t going to go easy on her but her shit-taking levels are at zero and you can’t help but root for her. She does show slight chinks in the armour, especially when she has a memory of her time in captivity but they all serve to make her stronger and survive.
Finally there was The Stranger, going through the entire film without a name – the credits list him as Six due to his cell number – he’s an enigmatic man who knows more than he lets on. Liam Cunningham – underrated actor – plays Six in such a way that he tells you everything and nothing at the same time and you can’t help but hang onto his every word, he doesn’t hide the fact that he’s there to judge the sinners or that he’s working for or with a higher cause but he never says why or how this is. There’s some really big hints that the film gives to him being The Devil (the judgment, the hellfire, the supernatural powers, the Six) but there’s also the possibility that he could just be Death, or even God, hell he could be all three, the film never goes into details because who he is, that’s not important, it’s why he’s there that’s the main issue, we see that he holds a strange, suggestive power over people and he is undeniably the catalyst that sets off the whole thing but he keeps out of the way of the worst parts of it, keeping his cool and primarily using suggestions and a little fear to make the sinful tremble. It’s a very subdued but powerful role that will be remembered as one of the best of the year.
Director Brian O’Malley makes his feature debut here and I really want to see what more he can bring cause this is a hell of an opening act. He was at the start of the screening to introduce the film and mentioned that his influences included David Fincher and John Carpenter (the latter is quite obvious). It’s early days yet but based on this film O’Malley has a strong chance at being the next great name in horror, people may liken him to Carpenter but that’s never a bad thing. Right from the start when Six makes his way to the island with a heavy, threatening tone and a murder (most appropriate name ever) of crows following him along you can tell this is going to be one intense ride. While the film isn’t as tense as it would like it makes up for that with just how much insanity it can fit into a scene and proceeds to blow you nuts off with excitement, brilliantly it actually does build up to the big finale moment, there’s only a few small moments before the last act to keep you pumped up but the build up is the most important aspect and it really helps the finale to pay off as one of the most satisfyingly brutal and deliciously gory scenes I’ve seen this year. Hell it’s not even just a scene, the last twenty minutes of this film are a fantastic pay-off and exactly what you wanted to see, it’s almost a literal Hell-On-Earth with the fire rising and the judgment harsh. Fans of the genre will f*cking love how it grips you tight and doesn’t let go.
The closest film that comes to this level of intensity this year was The Raid 2. I mean this film has nothing on The Raid 2 but it’s what immediately came to my mind.
Surprisingly there’s also a really sick sense of humour running through the veins of this film that I wasn’t expecting but welcome all the same. It’s almost cheesy at points but it’s the type of cheese that works brilliantly with the film – for example, at one point Hume says ‘The Doctor will see you now’ and it’s a line that’s equal parts threatening and quite hilarious at the same time. It’s just these small lines that pop up and add a moment of laughter, despite the gruesome violence, that stand out the best and add to the general fun of it all. That’s my biggest compliment to this movie, the film knows you’re having fun so it decides to have fun with you, it revels in its bloodshed (all practical FX work if I’m not mistaken, the blood looked chunky and you can’t get that with CGI) and it laughs in the face of good taste with deaths including shot-guns, windows, battering rams and even a shoe-cleaner at one point. It’s so OTT with how it decides to portray it’s violence and gore that you can’t help but laugh, not that any of it’s ridiculous (it is, but not in a bad way) but just because it’s so much and it’s so brilliant.
Let Us Prey isn’t a film for anyone looking for an intriguing and plot-heavy story, it’s not for anyone looking for a detailed and complex character study. What it is, is a f*cking great time and a new must-see for genre fans. Intense as hell, bloody as f*ck and with some of the most twisted humor I’ve seen in a film, it’s just so much fun. The prison setting and themes of retribution and judgment add an extra layer to the whole thing and the characters all give it their all with McIntosh and Cunningham coming out on top, McIntosh might be one of the best final girls I’ve seen in a long time. Plus Macready who far and away is the most entertaining character I’ve seen this year. It’s a blast and if you’re a fan of horror then keep your eyes peeled for when this is released.