Prey for the Devil (2022) That You Didn’t Spend Money to See This In Theaters
Title: Prey for the Devil
First Non-Festival Release: October 26, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Daniel Stamm
Writer: Robert Zappia, Todd R. Jones, Earl Richey Jones
Runtime: 93 Minutes
Starring: Jacqueline Byers, Christian Navarro, Posy Taylor, Virginia Madsen
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Attempting to make up for her traumatic childhood, Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers) attends a prestigious Catholic sponsored exorcist school in Boston to train as a healer alongside priests. Although she is a great nurse, her true talents lie in her connection with God and the devil. When she is put to the test and her skills are assessed, she is given the opportunity to train beside men, an opportunity never given to a woman before her. As she navigates this treacherous position, she learns that the case she has tied her heart to hits home much harder than expected.
Prey for the Devil is paint-by-the-numbers exorcism horror where an interesting premise goes to die.
The ideas surrounding this latest Hollywood exorcism horror are interesting enough to make way for exploring a tired sub-genre. Featuring an exorcism training academy, underground hospitals and dungeons, and the promise of the first female exorcist, there is plenty going for the story in terms of setup. Unfortunately, an over reliance on tropes and the muddled execution of its promising setup lead this demonic film to being one of the worst theatrically released films of the year.
From the beginning, Prey for the Devil aspires to mediocrity with its adherence to exorcism beats that we have seen time and again. Creepy kids sing out of tune songs to unsettle viewers before contorting and crawling up walls. Apparitions disappear in the darkness before disembodied voices whisper menacingly to the protagonist while she works late into the night researching. Every “shocking” moment in this film has been done multiple times by better movies. There is little desire to subvert expectations when it comes to how the horror unfolds. It's bland, artificial, and insulting for a film that promises to shake up the formula.
Demonic possession used as an extended metaphor for mental illness is nothing new in the realm of supernatural horror. Mixing this with similar themes of shame, guilt, and self-loathing, Prey for the Devil attempts to humanize the act of possession by suggesting not all demons are intruders. Instead, the central idea of this film is not that trauma makes one vulnerable to bad actors but that it is voluntarily sought out by those who wish to suffer as punishment for their sins.
Ignoring that this is an incredibly damaging idea of mental health and focusing solely on its thematic merits, it is proven to be a boring take on the subgenre. As Sister Ann and Father Dante scour their school library for answers, they learn that cases sent to the Vatican seldom survive and that the majority of them sustained some sort of deep trauma before succumbing to the original possession. Working overtime to save Natalie, they decide to exorcise Father Dante’s sister who had been raped and aborted the baby leading to her victimization.
The attempts to save the damned are quite possibly the only bright moment in the script, and even then it doesn’t fully quite do it justice. It’s determined that the only way to save the possessed from the devil, technically themselves, since this is self-imposed according to the movie, is for them to let go of the guilt, shame, and need for punishment so they can let in God’s light to pave the way. Now, considering the film is set within the confines of the Catholic church, it makes sense to intertwine these ideas. From an outside perspective, it leans heavily into the propaganda territory to be without mentioning.
This idea that mental illness is something that can be overcome by sheer force of will rather than a community of support and trusted medical professionals is odd. This is amplified by the fact that the resident academic and skeptic fails to examine how trauma might lead her patients into her care in the first place. It should be said, however, that the message of self-forgiveness and letting go of guilt from survivor’s trauma is good when looked at in a vacuum, and is the sole good writing choice made throughout the film.
Beyond the tiring story, Prey for the Devil misses the mark on nearly every other aspect of filmmaking. The cast looks like they are in on the worst practical joke of all time, almost smirking their way through the sillier sequences in the film. Promising performers who give great performances in other films appear to simply sleepwalk through this one, likely knowing exactly what it will turn out to be. Every scare sequence is telegraphed with the most obvious cues, both directorially and musically. Unintentional comedy ruins any chance of the film developing any sort of tension, making it wholly ineffective.
Disappointing exorcism horror films are a dime a dozen. Easy to make and even easier to sell, it’s difficult not to be cynical at their releases. Even the talented Daniel Stamm cannot make Prey for the Devil work. Riddled with terrible dialogue, odd performances, and poorly researched material, this tepid demonic thriller barely crosses the finish line without unleashing every cliché in the book to waste runtime. There are better exorcism films out there with much more interesting things to say than Prey for the Devil. It doesn’t take much faith to find one better.
Overall Score? 3.5/10