Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Brian O’Malley
Writer: Fiona Watson, David Cairns
Producer: Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell, Eddie Dick
Stars: Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Larkin, Hanna Stanbridge, Douglas Russell, Niall Greig Fulton, Jonathan Watson, Brian Vernel
A small town police station erupts in chaos when a mystery man arrives with the power to expose everyone’s darkest secrets.
From perpetrators of hit-and-run homicides and wife-beating feticides to committers of psychopathic familicide and serial-killing mutilation, the sleepy Scottish hamlet of Inveree (maybe or maybe not meant to be confused with the real-life village of Inverie) is populated exclusively by terrible people. Recently transferred constable Rachel Heggie is idealistic enough to not realize this quite yet. But Six, a trench coat-sporting, cigarette-smoking, beard-wearing John Doe so mysterious that he is only referred to by the number of his holding cell, knows everyone’s sinister secrets intimately well.
Six’s unexpected arrival at the small town’s police station comes with a cryptic warning about the approach of midnight, and kickstarts a macabre nightmare forcing police officers and prisoners alike to confront inner demons in truly horrific fashion. Angel, devil, or something else entirely, Six has come to collect the souls of the wicked, and to offer retribution to those who might still be saved. Though for Rachel, there is a different proposition entirely, provided she can survive the explosive chaos inspired by this mystery man’s very presence.
First-time feature director Brian O’Malley is evidently out to kill a full murder of crows using one stone. Built with bricks of Judeo-Christian mythology and mortar made from mass murder mayhem, “Let Us Prey” fills out its foundation with interpretive psychological horror and frantic fits of violently gory splatter. For the most part, the smorgasbord of supernatural and slasher elements combines into an entertainingly efficient thriller, even though its component parts randomly clash in ways where a hand is as likely to stifle a chuckle or a yawn as much as it is a scream.
The film is visually terrific and plays just as well, achieving exceptional value out of a modest budget and predominantly singular interior set through rich production design and a smartly cast roster of recognizable talent. Although by cutting swaths of cerebral mystery, visceral terror, black comedy, and siege suspense during its 90-minute circuit, this overwhelming desire to bite off all it can chew and then some occasionally swallows too much.
“Let Us Prey” takes itself seriously, though not to an extent that it doesn’t take time out to wink every now and again. In that vein, dialogue is not as consistently clever as it wants to be, coming across as comically corny whether or not the intention is humor to begin with.
During one scene, “the doctor will see you now” comes out of the mouth of a physician raising his fists to fight. That’s a cartoon villain quip seemingly plucked from a 1960s-era Stan Lee comic. Another character’s retort for the classic “go to Hell” insult is, “why bother? The devils are already here.” Overwrought instances like these can undercut the high stakes drama that the rest of the movie wishes to put across.
The script’s bigger issue for some is its “choose your own explanation” ending, certain to interest those who delight in dissecting ambiguity while frustrating those looking to conclusively understand the method behind Six’s madness. “Let Us Prey” is not so bogged down by Biblical overtones and scripture passages that non-religious types will feel preached to or miss the message, if there is one. But the storyline is steeped in spiritual philosophy about soul redemption and traditional good versus evil themes that read differently depending on the viewer’s personal belief system.
From “The Woman” to “White Settlers” (review here), Pollyanna McIntosh is always an enigmatic watch no matter how the movies themselves turn out. However, she might be mildly miscast here. McIntosh’s distinguishable stature, as well as genre fans’ familiarity with her as a ferocious fighter, makes her a curious choice for a bullied police constable initially depicted as mousy despite her dominant presence. As in previous roles, McIntosh has her chance to shine when Rachel morphs fists-first from mouse to lion. Yet the way her squinted eyelid quivers more than once as the main way to convey frustrated subservience hints that convincingly portraying this aspect of a character is not McIntosh’s strongest ability.
“Let Us Prey” is a seesaw of various parts fighting within themselves to stand out as good or bad without developing definitively into either. Characters are clichéd, but the performances maintain their engagement. Lighting accents dread-filled atmosphere beautifully while the music paints over it with too thick of a brush in places. A mysterious stranger seizing a building and the exposure of a small town’s innermost horrors isn’t new grist for the thriller mill either, but the movie concludes with a satisfyingly wild third act only liars will claim they saw coming.
The varying quality of its individual pieces lands “Let Us Prey” in a nebulous area where time will not etch it in stone as a classic, nor will it be dismissed as a trifle. “Let Us Prey” has enough going for it to be worthwhile to thriller and horror fans hungry for a hearty helping of supernatural suspense, even if that interest turns out to be passing in the end.
Review Score: 65