Let Us Prey. 2014. Directed by Brian O’Malley. Screenplay by David Cairns & Fiona Watson.
Starring Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Larkin, Hanna Stanbridge, Douglas Russell, Niall Greig Fulton, and Jonathan Watson. Creative Scotland/Fantastic Films/Greenhouse Media Investment/Irish Film Board/Makar Productions.
Rated 18A. 92 minutes.
“And if the devil is six, then god is seven; this monkey’s gone to heaven.”
– Frank Black
In my review for the recent Last Shift, I talked about how it built a sort of supernatural twist out of the simple premise John Carpenter used in his incredible action-thriller Assault on Precinct 13. There’s a certain amount of the small, claustrophobic feel and location in Let Us Prey which owes very much to Carpenter’s film. Otherwise this is its own beast.
Lots of people no doubt came to this film simply because they’re like me and keep up on all sorts of horror films, whether British, American, German, French, or out of any other country. Others probably saw that Liam Cunningham was on the cast list; many recent fans of his come from his role as Sir Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, on HBO’s Game of Thrones, others of us recognize him also from things like The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Dog Soldiers. Then, even further, are those who came because they’re big fans of Pollyanna McIntosh from films like Offspring/The Woman, and more recently White Settlers.
Regardless of what draws a viewer to Let Us Prey, it ultimately delivers as both a tense and savage indie horror movie. This one has teeth. Not afraid to use them, either.
PC. Rachel Heggie (Pollyanna McIntosh) is starting on her first shift, overnight, at a tiny police station out in the backwaters of Scotland. As a few prisoners sit in their cells, PC. Heggie and Sergeant MacReady (Douglas Russell – A Lonely Place to Die, Valhalla Rising) keep an eye on things. There’s also PC. Jack Warnock (Bryan Larkin) and PC. Jennifer Mundie (Hanna Stanbridge) who’ve got their own thing going on.
But it’s when a man named Six (Liam Cunningham) shows up at the police station, brought in after seemingly being hit by a car, that everything begins to change. Rachel, her Sergeant, and the other officers have no idea exactly who or what they are dealing with, and over the course of the night Six intends to show them.
I think this review is as good a time to say it as any, given that I find this movie is pretty solid horror.
With any genre really, but in this case horror, my view is that you don’t have to be original in order to be good, great even. As long as you can bring something fresh to even the oldest of concepts, something exciting and interesting, then there’s at least SOMETHING to be mined out of that effort. For instance, like I mentioned about the Carpenter film almost being a prototype for this movie and Last Shift, there’s a way to incorporate that and still be unique on its own. Let Us Prey goes even a much different route than Last Shift, in my opinion, apart from the obvious plot/story differences. What I enjoy here is that there’s horror, yet behind it all there seems to be bits of symbolism. That is to say, other than the heavy handedness in the screenplay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to enjoy it too long. There could have been much more done with all this, instead it ends up mostly as gimmickry for the characters. The barbed wire crown of thorns-style headdress? Obviously a gritty nod to the crucifixion, just fell flat more than anything because it was begging to be used for more than fodder. I’m not even religious, it’s only the fact I feel the imagery/symbolism was there to use and it ended up like discarded pieces of fat trimmed off the meat; good fat, not the useless kind. Anyways, I’m not the one who had the good fortune to come up with this whole plot and story, so kudos to the screenwriters on all the wonderful stuff they DID jam into Let Us Prey.
There are still problems.
I really don’t know exactly why Sergeant MacReady (Russell) turned into the wild religious maniac he did. I guess I do; it doesn’t work for me, though. Totally dig the confrontation between MacReady and Six (Cunningham) where the entire idea of Christianity v. Atheism came out. However, this simply doesn’t account for him going off the way he does. There was some amazingly disturbing subject matter happening in the subplot of MacReady, but it simply wasn’t thought out well enough. All the same, I did enjoy Russell’s performance because he got to go crazy and, though tempting surely, he stopped short of hamming it up.
Part of what I did love here is that this movie is a modern horror with great aesthetic things going on all around; from the visual look to the pounding, unrelenting score.
First off, the cinematography by Piers McGrail, who also shot the excellent looking (though ultimately disappointing) The Canal, is a part of what sets the overall sombre mood and tense tone of the film. Aside from an amazingly shadowy, rich textured look to many of the scenes, the composition of certain shots is absolutely marvellous. Old school style framing with these incredibly proportional shots which can, at times, box you in the way proper horror ought to, anyways.
Second, and just as important, there comes a lusciously composed score out of the mind and hands of Steve Lynch. I’ve never honestly heard anything he’s done, not that I know of, but this score is WOW – downright homage-like, harkening once more back to John Carpenter, and all at once there’s also a totally different quality to the different pieces, a heavier, more terrifying feel. Some moments really gut punch you, in the right sort of sense. Other scenes have this dreadful foreboding skin laying thick over every beautiful shot where the atmosphere seeps into your skin and really entrenches you in the world Let Us Prey presents. Hallmark of a solid horror is always nice atmosphere, in part due to cinematography and score working in conjunction as one creepy unit; this film bears those marks, more than plentifully.
While I don’t agree with certain reviews stating the police station here is a type of Limbo, or anything similar, I think there’s absolutely some Hell-ish stuff which transpires. That leads us into the greatest part about the film: the horror. Pollyanna McIntosh and Liam Cunningham are equally wonderful in their respective roles, but what gets me going about Let Us Prey is good old fashioned horror fun. From the savage antics of Sergeant MacReady, to one of the officers slamming a chair leg through a guy’s head with gory pleasure, there are more than enough moments to satisfy the gorehound horror fans amongst the pack.
The finale is somewhat lacking. Not that I’m a person who needs ALL things wrapped up in the end. However, there’s a bunch of things happening thematically and I don’t feel as if the finale and ending do enough for me in terms of closing off those themes, ones they started in on initially, so there’s a copout in that sense. I didn’t want a bow on top and a neat little present of an ending – there’s something missing. I can’t say what, but the Cairns/Watson script needed a more suitable finish, which left me walking away lacking.
Let Us Prey is a 3.5 star film, for me. The script leaves me a bit lukewarm by the end, but the performances are really great all around – even from the smaller roles – and the horror is downright nasty, as well as relentless for a good deal near the end. The problems I do have with the script are relatively minor. There’s enough tension and excitement throughout this awesome Scottish indie to keep anyone interested. If not, well there are nice frilly little action movies with bright shapes and colours for you to look at: over here we’re watching brutal horror movies!