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Prey for the Devil Review: Exorcist Ripoff

Despite some semi-decent PG-13 body horror, Prey for the Devil unfortunately falls terribly flat on its face with a dull retread of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist

In 2010, director Daniel Stamm promised us The Last Exorcism. I guess he was lying, because twelve years later, he returns with Prey for the Devil, another exorcism picture that doesn’t do much to impress aside from quasi-retreading the same storyline as William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, which is the blueprint for most demonic possession movies. We’ve got Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers) who starts to get trained in the art of exorcism, even though nuns are forbidden to do so, by a priest (Colin Salmon) who sees her natural-born talents. 

From there, she must attempt to save Regan MacNe–I mean Natalie (Posy Taylor), whom Ann thinks is possessed by the same demon who killed her own mother. What does the demon want with her? It’s barely explained, but I guess it wants her soul? In my opinion, few mainstream possession films have been memorable, save for James Wan’s excellent The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 (The Devil Made Me Do It wasn’t the same without Wan at the helm), for the reason that they all seem to rip off The Exorcist, without hiding it. 

In Prey for the Devil, Natalie is Regan MacNeil, Sister Ann is Damien Karras, and Father Quinn (Salmon) is, of course, Father Lankester Merrin. There are only a few notable differences in the plot, but the core of the movie remains the same. A spiritual figure of sorts must perform an exorcism on a possessed young daughter, whose spirit has been taken by an evil demonic figure ready to kill her if necessary. If you’ve seen The Exorcist, you’ve seen Prey for the Devil. There are no thrills or surprises in how Stamm handles the story. You see everything coming a mile away, whether it’s the dull jumpscares, or story beats Stamm rehashes from The Exorcist. The climax is a beat-for-beat recreation of The Exorcist’s ending, save for a location change and a few characters surviving. Though one is a vastly superior movie, because it doesn’t rely on a slew of jumpscares to “terrify” the audience.

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Posy Taylor (“Natalie”) in Prey for the Devil (Vlad Cioplea, © 2021 Lionsgate)

Yes, Prey of the Devil is another jumpscare-driven horror film. And even with a few neat practical feats of body horror, it isn’t enough for me to have gotten scared throughout its brisk 93 minute runtime. Only one scene is genuinely terrifying, when Natalie starts to choke on her hair (it’s on the film’s poster). The PG-13 practicality is well-done, and establishes a great sense of tension that isn’t found in any other scare. The rest is nothing but anticipation (no sound for a brief moment), jumpscare (a very loud noise is passed off as a “scare”), and relief, until the next jumpscare comes into play, without fail. All of the scares are also extremely predictable, and do nothing to push the boundaries of the horror genre further than it should. 

In an era where original horror movies are prevailing on screen, movies like Prey for the Devil usually get relegated to January, where they come out and are immediately forgotten by the masses. But the movie was pushed back way too many times to count, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that it arrives with an even bigger whimper than when it was initially slated to come out, because 2022 has been an incredible year for horror. None of the scares hold our attention more than a slight increase in our heart rates because of the loud noises, but don’t necessarily scare us that we’ll not be able to go to bed at night. 

The performances are equally ridiculous. I enjoyed Colin Salmon and Virginia Madsen’s attempts at making their characters seem serious enough, but their dialogues are so poorly written that not even the greatest actor in the world could pull off something palpable. The same goes for Jacqueline Byers, who is unfortunately miscast as Sister Ann. She plays the most dramatic sequence with an air of unintentional hilarity to them which made some of the scenes in which Natalie attacks members of the Church quite funny to watch, even though the scenes are serious, and the atmosphere quite dark. 

Because of this, Prey for the Devil doesn’t do much for the horror genre. Its plot is too recycled, its stars don’t seem to care, and its scares aren’t scary, minus a few cool practical tricks here and there. Believe it or not, it was initially slated to come out in January 2021, where it would’ve been left to die. But I regret to inform you all that even a Halloween release won’t save the movie from being any good. The Last Exorcism should’ve indeed been the last exorcism. 

Prey for the Devil is out now on digital and on demand.

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