The darkest of Mayhem’s opening night offerings (though considering the rest of the content was supplied by the irreverent and hilarious Astron-6 collective, that’s not all too surprising), Let Us Prey presented to audiences a taut, beautifully shot horror-thriller with a relentlessly increasing sense of “as if this is happening now…”
After a fantastic title sequence over sweeping shots of apocalyptic waves (a nod to the classical concept the Sublime which can’t be accidental considering the subject matter) and a lone figure striding forcefully towards a small Scottish town, we are introduced to police officer Rachel Heggie (an incredibly multifaceted performance by Pollyanna McIntosh). Her first day on the job, she witnesses a teenager speed his car straight into the lone figure (Liam Cunningham), who promptly vanishes from the scene. Confused but undeterred she takes the teenager to the police station, setting in motion a chain of events that will leave prisoners and officers fighting for their lives as the stoic stranger (dubbed) Six’s purpose is slowly revealed…
The debut feature from Brian O’Malley. Let Us Prey is a Carpenter film, without the trademark flourishes in the latter’s work which often provide levity. Prey is grim and near-the-knuckle filmmaking, nihilistic in its old-testament central thesis and totally unforgiving in its presentation of violence and its bruised, bloody, butchered consequences. That’s not to say the film is without a sense of humour. There’s a number of none-more-black gallows jokes, if one doesn’t consider the entire narrative as one giant cosmic mockery.
It’s hard to review fully without revealing more specifics as, although not particularly twist-heavy or spoilerific, the tale works best the less you know going in. Just fully understand that it is brutal, and one of the few films which proposes such a pessimistic view of people and redemption and salvation that isn’t infuriatingly blinkered and dismissive of other outlooks and Weltenschauungen. It is aware and acknowledges that the premise is a contrived set-up, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with a film being such.
The incorporation of supernatural/religious overtones is also important and serves a necessary point, rebutting a key criticism of the film that remarks “this must be the worst town of people in Scotland”. They have all been gathered for the events of the film to transpire as they do, which the opening car crash elucidates.
O’Malley and editor Tony Kearns’ handling of pace is worthy of note, moving as it does from the heightening, bubbling, terse suspense of the first act to the all out horror and insanity of the ‘siege’ finale without ever speeding or rushing the action. It gives Prey a sense of inevitability, as we inexorably progress through the near real-time events while rarely leaving the station (at once expansive and claustrophobic). In spite of this consistent sense of escalation (to Sublime levels?), the individual moments of the finale still manage elicit incredulous reactions, most notably at the fire-and-brimstone return of station Sergeant MacReady – another surely-intentional allusion, to Kurt Russell’s character in Carpenter’s The Thing.
When MacReady bursts in, looking like he’s taken an interceptor straight from a Mad Max film (the most prevalent promotional image), it is understandable that this is the point the film could have lost its way. Quietly simmering from the start (and with a crackingly appropriate score), the powderkeg explodes in blood and fire and carnage in the thrilling, intense climax. Arguably, though, Prey could only end here, as this “old testament” man attempts to resolve matters via a well-used shotgun, and O’Malley’s first feature closes as a resounding success, and one of the highlights of Mayhem 2014.