Since The Exorcist shocked audiences in 1973, plenty of demonic possession movies have followed. At this point, the storytelling conventions and tropes are well-established. To date, The Exorcist remains the gold standard of the horror subgenre. But The Exorcist III has slowly won over critics and fans. And The Last Exorcism and The Exorcism of Emily Rose put interesting spins on the format. Unfortunately, a slew of middling demonic possession movies have probably managed to bore even the Devil himself. Just in time for this year’s Halloween, Lionsgate released Prey for the Devil. Clearly, Lionsgate had a lot of confidence in this movie. In addition to its coveted release date, Prey for the Devil’s trailer was on heavy rotation in theaters. But critics absolutely hated this one.
As cases of demonic possession rise across the globe, The Vatican breaks with tradition allowing a young nun to learn the rite of exorcism. The nun, Sister Anne, demonstrates an empathy for victims of possession that Father Quinn believes may be an asset in an exorcism. And Sister Anne believes she has a past history with demons – her mother may have been possessed. Now Sister Anne is convinced that the same demon from her past has taken hold of a young girl, Natalie. As past secrets come to light, Sister Anne realizes she may the only one who can save Natalie.
Prey for the Devil Goes Through the Motions of a Formulaic Demonic Possession Movie
Director Daniel Stamm knows his way around the demonic possession narrative – his prior credits include the decent The Last Exorcism. In addition, the production value here is quite good. It’s not surprising that Prey for the Devil found itself backed by a big marketing push and sitting with the Friday release right before Halloween. Stamm also keeps things moving along a quick pace. For better or worse, Prey for the Devil doesn’t overstay its welcome at just over 90 minutes. Too bad that’s where the positives end. Everything else about Prey for the Devil is lazy and derivative. In fact, Robert Zappia’s screenplay is so formulaic that one feels they could write it as the movie unfolds in real time.
For better or worse, Prey for the Devil doesn’t overstay its welcome at just over 90 minutes.
While The Last Exorcism benefited from its found-footage format and narrative structure, Prey for the Devil seems content to recycle tropes. There’s the protagonist with the troubled past. And don’t forget about the church bureaucracy that unwittingly gets in the way of helping the possessed victim. Each act of this movie follows a predictable format. This is the kind of movie where you could get up, putter around the house, and not miss anything all that pertinent. As the third act rolls around, Zappia adds a twist that manages to be both unnecessary and entirely predictable. Nothing else about this movie feels remotely original.
Prey for the Devil Exorcises The Scares Out Of Its Premise
All of these problems would be fine if Prey for the Devil was remotely scary or suspenseful. Most movies don’t re-invent the wheel. Sadly, Prey for the Devil is such a connect-the-dots movie that the end product is flat. Unless you’re an inexperienced horror fan, Stamm fails to conjure up many scares. And there’s an absolute dearth of suspense. Everything about this movie feels perfunctory. It’s a problem further exacerbated by the lazy use of digital effects. There are multiple scenes where one could imagine practical effects working quite well. Instead, Prey for the Devil opts for CGI effects, which are often unconvincing. It’s an often perplexing problem – the movie looks top-notch, but often feels amateurish.
Unless you’re an inexperienced horror fan, Stamm fails to conjure up many scares. And there’s an absolute dearth of suspense.
As for the performances, Canadian actress Jacqueline Byers (Bad Samaritan) is perfectly fine as Sister Anne. However, Zappia’s screenplay saddles Byers with a tired character arc and few distinguishing traits with which to work. The same problem applies to Christian Navarro, playing Father Dante, who has no way to really distinguish himself. Moreover, Prey for the Devil wastes Colin Salmon (Resident Evil) and Virginia Madsen (Candyman) in supporting roles. In particular, Salmon’s ‘Father Quinn’ cries out for more screen time. Just about the only actor in the movie who gets a chance to shine is Posy Taylor playing the possessed, Natalie.
Prey for the Devil a Lazy Hollywood Horror Effort
If you want to know what corporate horror filmmaking looks like, just watch Prey for the Devil. This is checklist storytelling that simultaneously checks off just every exorcism movie trope one could imagine. Neither shocking nor scary, Prey for the Devil is lazy and derivative effort. Whether it’s the unnecessary (and poor quality) CGI effects or the recycled plot, there’s nothing about this horror movie that makes it worth recommending. In Halloween season that boasted a lot of horror releases, it was probably wise to dump this one at the end of the month.