Daniel Stamm is back in the saddle again and ready to put audiences to sleep with his most impotent effort yet, Prey for the Devil. The film, whose release was originally set for January 2021, finally arrived in theaters this past weekend just in time to ruin Halloween. Yet another in a long list of derivative horror films sloppily put together with little intention of a sincere attempt at a thoughtful narrative, Stamm reminds us that it might be time to give the whole possession movie thing a rest. You would think that the director of a decent horror film like The Last Exorcism would have the acumen to recognize all the issues plaguing Prey for the Devil.
The premise of the film is simple: The year is 2018. A global rise in demonic possession has forced the catholic church to open schools to teach priests the Rite of Exorcism. Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers) who dealt with the traumatic childhood experience of being abused by her possessed mother, finds herself drawn to the ritual. Father Quinn (Colin Salmon) recognizes that Ann has a unique gift: through empathy she is able to reach the possessed in ways that the priests cannot. Yes, empathy! Who would have thought? Certainly, nobody in the history of a 2000-year-old institution. Unfortunately for Ann, the catholic church has a strict rule against women practicing exorcisms. After some initial push back from other church officials, Father Quinn (our unsung feminist ally) is able to convince others of Ann’s gift and invites her to join in on classes and subsequent exorcisms. Charming.
What follows is a poorly written and deeply flawed film, marred by plot holes covered up with just enough jump scares to keep audiences from falling into a boredom induced coma. The scariest moments of the film rely too heavily on the tired techniques of the genre and a grossly decadent application of CGI. Of course, the blame cannot be totally placed on the director. Screenwriter Robert Zappia (if you’ve seen the laughably inane Halloween:H20 then you’ll be familiar with his work) goes to great lengths to ensure that audiences are treated to a shallow and underdeveloped story. By the time the film reaches its audaciously predictable plot twist, your anger at having spent money to see it will rob you of the laughter its absurdity could have afforded you.
What is most heartbreaking about this film is that on a conceptual level it showed promise. One can see how the film could have soared by tackling issues of gender equality and trauma in a thoughtful way, but poor execution and weak directorial choices clip its wings before it ever has the chance to take off. Instead, what we have is yet another generic possession film that disappoints us in all the ways we expect it to. Despite its shortcomings I have no doubt that Stamm will find financing for a direct-to-streaming sequel. Perhaps he can title it Sympathy for the Director.
Austin Torres an English major currently finishing his master’s degree on the Literature track at FIU. His pastimes include watching films, reading books, painting, and swimming.