Exiled to her backwater hometown for an unspecified indiscretion, Police Constable Rachel Heggie is about to start her first shift with new colleagues, picking up a mouthy teenage joyrider before she’s even made it to the station. However, after the arrival of an ominous man with no verifiable past who is placed in the cells along with the young criminal, a murderous doctor and a wife-beating teacher, things take a turn for the terrifying. It soon becomes clear that everyone is harbouring a dark secret and they are all about to descend into their own personal hell.
Although the plot of Let Us Prey (not to mention its title) is reminiscent of any number of horror films you could call to memory with little effort, it’s in the execution, rather than the set-up, that the movie excels.
Right from the doom-rock credit sequence of barbed wire dripping with fresh blood, squadrons of crows swarming in slow motion and darkened thunderclouds rolling overhead while a storm-tossed ocean lashes at coastal outcrops upon which a human silhouette stands defiant, it seems that subtlety is going to be in short order. However, despite being a sinister and bloody horror movie with increasingly overt religious undertones, Let Us Prey's first time feature director, Brian O’Malley, also exercises a perfectly utilised level of restraint that prevents it from crossing the line into farce. That doesn’t mean to say the film is without humour; the gobby bravado of the young ned is amusing, as is the occasional flash of self-awareness (“What is it with this fucking town?”), which prevents the film from becoming too bleak to be entertaining.
The small cast (eight characters of appropriately varied prominence) allows the events to remain tight and confined without becoming cluttered and the gradual reveal of the true extent of each person’s wrongdoings keeps things interesting.
The central mystery of what’s truly going on is anchored by the taciturn enigma of Liam Cunningham’s nameless vagabond. He seemingly manipulates events from his cell via matchsticks used like eldritch marionette control bars while uttering cryptic pronouncements of doom that are thankfully devoid of the irritating sense of patronising condescension all too frequent in such dialogue. Although his precise nature is never specifically stated, it’s clear he’s a supernatural avenging force targeting those who are so far beyond guilty they are now the irredeemable, the damned, the truly evil for whom salvation was a chance long since squandered. On the other end of the morality spectrum is Pollyanna McIntosh’s Rachel, seemingly the only one without a violent past, but whose own buried secret goes a long way to explaining her icy exterior and disgust for violent sadists, while her height and leanly muscular frame allow her to convince as a natural action girl.
The setting is deliberately vague (the town of Inveree doesn’t exist and the police officers’ uniforms have no area designation), and as the desolate, decaying settlement seems utterly devoid of all other (living) people, it’s entirely possible that they are all already in purgatory without realising it, with only the memories of their misdeeds to torment them as they await their sins to be counted out.
O’Malley has marked himself as a talent to watch. Striking a perfect balance of suspense, violence, humour, story and action, Let Us Prey feels at once classic and modern; horror the way it was always supposed to have been made. You will not be disappointed.
LET US PREY / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: BRIAN O’MALLEY / SCREENPLAY: FIONA WATSON, DAVID CAIRNS / STARRING: LIAM CUNNINGHAM, POLLYANNA MCINTOSH, BRYAN LARKIN, HANNA STANBRIDGE, DOUGLAS RUSSELL, BRIAN VERNEL / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 19TH