DIR: Brian O’Malley • WRI: David Cairns, Fiona Watson • PRO: Eddie Dick, Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell • DOP: Piers McGrail • ED: Tony Kearns • DES: James Lapsley • MUS: Steve Lynch • DES: Scott Kuzio • CAST: Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Larkin
Brian O’Malley’s Let Us Prey arrived at JDIFF earlier this year, mooted against its will as part of an Irish horror trilogy that would screen at the festival. Irish genre films are a rare beast, the Irish film itself often emerging as a genre unto itself with most films produced domestically inspired by Irish culture and guided to Irish audiences. The universal appeal of the horror genre is a mine consistently ripe for tapping and, as such, contains far more misfires than hits, regardless of where they were produced. Judging this film on that criteria alone (as opposed to the inevitable mirth it will be greeted with for daring to not be about Catholic guilt), Let Us Prey escapes dissection relatively unscathed, and almost triumphantly when one considers it is a directorial debut.
The film opens with well-shot waves crashing against a Scottish shore, from which Liam Cunningham emerges creepily. He commences to potter about a small coastal village until he is noticed by rookie police officer Rachel and locked up with all the other local sinners, a number which swells from one to four during the course of the film. What follows, as the group of miscreants and police-officers clamber in for the night, is a kind-of demonic Assault on Precinct 13, with more bloodshed than the average audience is accustomed to. Be warned; for the faint-hearted this is not; this is the most grisly sequence of events I’ve seen transpire onscreen since Kill List.
And thankfully it all looks great – shot well, edited sublimely, lit grimly and paced steadily. The acting is of a standard, with Cunningham’s charisma doing everyone a favour, and he doesn’t even seem to be making an effort. In truth, he’s fast becoming one of those actors it’s simply a good idea to have in your film and here it’s difficult to see anyone else working in the role, but it’s the less famous faces one should be paying attention to, in particular Douglas Russell as the deranged Sgt. McReady, whom I apparently saw in Valhalla Rising but was certainly not a fraction as memorable then. He gets the films finest beat and owns it thrillingly, in blood-soaked, belly-laughing fashion. Watch his space.
The minor muddle meandering through this at-times delightful cocktail of horrors is where it’s coming from. There is something amiable in an innate desire to sew together horror elements with a thin tangle of plot (see 2009’s Orphan), but Let Us Prey deftly hints. until its final act, that it is a hymn to a higher purpose – yet fails to deliver a plot pay-off in that regard, though Stephen Lynch’s twisted synth-music is the only definite hint one needs to know that this is genre-fare with ambition of the highest order. That and of course … McReady.
Let Us Prey is a great day in the cinema for horror-fans and should probably be avoided by flirters with the genre, though I’ll steer no one clear from this if I can help it. Brian O’Malley has delivered on that universal appeal I referred to earlier, and then some.
18 (See IFCO for details)
Let Us Prey is released 5th June 2015