Halloween might be over, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to watch a scary movie. “Prey for the Devil” is one of the few new Halloween releases left in my local movie theater and, not quite ready to let the spooky season go, I decided to give it a watch.
The film follows Sister Anne (Jacqueline Byers), who works at the Catholic Church’s exorcism facility in Boston, caring for the possessed. She is unable to exorcise them herself as only male priests can perform exorcisms, but she strongly pushes for permission to be the first female exorcist in centuries, which her mentor, Father Quinn (Colin Salmon), advocates for.
Anne has a natural skill with connecting with the possessed, which prompts her local cardinal to allow her to be trained, if only to know how to defend herself. The film also takes the time to make the distinction between psychiatric cases and how they have been mistakenly identified as possessions, which is a fine line the film has to walk, as in its world there are also legitimate, supernaturally-violent cases where a demon has possessed a person. Along those lines, Anne regularly sees a psychiatrist named Dr. Peters (Virginia Madsen), who helps her not only through the events of this film, but also her traumatic past.
Byers has a standout performance that makes the film work, and she has strong chemistry with Salmon, who takes her seriously and sees great potential in her. Without spoiling the film too much, Anne’s mother was also possessed, and is the main reason why the Catholic Church took her in (her mother was killed by the demon who possessed her), and Anne also has a complicated past with a daughter of her own that is revealed later in the film.
Anne’s struggle to prove herself as a female exorcist is excellent, as is her familial struggle. I also like how much of a clear threat almost all the demons are in this film, not only for the possessed, but anyone who is near them. There are clear stakes to the exorcism scenes, and the film does a great job of letting Anne and company connect with the victims, which further invests the audience in their struggle.
There are a few elements that could have been more developed, with Father Dante’s (Christian Navarro) arc being the prime one. Dante is Anne’s peer and enlists her to perform an unsanctioned exorcism on his sister, which has dire consequences. Dante understandably goes through a lot of trauma in the film, yet remains a static character seemingly unfazed by everything. I can certainly understand the need for the filmmakers to not overshadow Anne’s story, but Dante’s arc is a missed opportunity to flesh out what could have been a great complex character that could have also solicited a great emotionally-charged performance from Navarro. Anne’s initial fall in the script also felt far too brief and derivative to have much emotional impact — I question if it needed to be there at all.
The film also has its fair share of jump scares, but it isn’t particularly scary. It has horror elements, but it isn’t necessarily a horror film; the film works because of good world building and character development and because it’s able to establish stakes very well. This film isn’t about saving the world from Lucifer — it’s about saving a handful of people who are in danger of losing their lives to supernatural demons.
I hope that this is a breakout role for Byers. It certainly is a strong entry in her filmography — I have a feeling bigger things are ahead for her.
While I would hesitate to rank “Prey for the Devil” among the best of the year, it certainly is a solid film worthy of your time, even if it’s not particularly scary for a film released over Halloween weekend.
“Prey for the Devil” gets an 8/10