Prey for the Devil Review

Last Updated on March 8, 2023

PLOT: Demonic possessions are rising, so the Catholic Church has put exorcist training courses on the fast track. But Sister Ann, a nun with a personal history of it, is forbidden to train until that personal history comes back in a dangerous way.

REVIEW:The exorcist sub-genre has always lived in the immense shadow of 1973’s The Exorcist. Like Jaws for shark movies, exorcism is culturally linked to one main entry and has set the bar high on quality and execution. It’s hard not to compare Prey for the Devil to Friedkin’s classic in some way. And though director Daniel Stamm plays within a well-worn toy chest, he still delivers a fun popcorn experience. It may lean more toward the pop aesthetic James Wan ushered in, in terms of jump scares than deep terror, but it’s still a fun time if you go in knowing it’s that type of flick.

Set within the Catholic Churches’ training centers, Prey for the Devil takes a refreshing angle and puts the Church in the role of a Government agency; one tasked with stopping a dangerous threat. Putting a focus on the technical side of exorcists is an idea I’ve always liked. What does the process actually look like, and how would it run? We get a curriculum full of the physical degradation of what possession does to the body, key-car access training rooms with possessed patients, and a teacher with no patience for error. Head professor Father Quinn (Colin Salmon)is in charge of the class we, the audience, follow. And Salmon uses his stoic charm and, intentionally or not, comes off like a hard-core holy priest. And he had me smiling more than I expected I would. 

Under the school’s property, set in giant, classic-looking historical structures, is a high-tech prison where people suspected of possession are held and monitored. A technological center at the heart of a spiritual war is where Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers) works as a nurse, someone who is to comfort and do God’s work. Yet, Ann is far more interested in the nitty gritty action of actual exorcism. But Nuns are only there to help provide comfort, and the persists are the ones who get the demon removal training. But Byers owns it as Ann and has a genuine kindness and curiosity that emanates on screen. Playing someone trying to break norms and fight the good fight takes an actress that can be tough yet vulnerable, and even with some silly dialogue, Byers makes it completely believable.

Seeing Ann has the skills needed, Father Quinn breaks protocol so she can train with the class and learn the techniques of an exorcist. We open on an incredible and intense scene where Ann’s mother wants into her daughter’s locked room. It’s a setup for Ann’s fascination with demon possession and how her mother was an unlucky victim. It’s a scene that shows Stamm at his best and hooks you right off the bat. The look, movement, and sound design deliver an intensity handled with respect and care. There is a scene between Ann and Father Dante (Christian Navarro), who’s helping Dantes’s sister, that gets surprisingly emotional and feels worthy of the sub-genre. But my issue with the movie comes with the possession scenes.

With solid performances and tight, focused directing, the drama and execution of everything surrounding the exorcism seem like a genuine tale worth telling that was both fun and creepy. Still, the actual exorcism and possessions are too damn safe. When I mentioned James Wan earlier, it’s because that is now the standard Hollywood horror take. It’s more of a tried and true theater experience that doesn’t rely on fear as much as it does on loud sound cues and jump scares. I get the sneaking suspicion that some of the more generic parts were studio notes or pushed hard during pre-production. They are handled well and effectively but could be far more inspired. We get copy-and-paste scares that seem at odds with the general story. It may work out well in a packed theater, but they had a cool enough concept that didn’t require such a safe and worn horror bend.

Overall, Prey for the Devil ended up being more by the numbers than I had anticipated. Still, the cast is solid, the setting is unique, and I enjoyed the exploration of an Exorcism-like agency. Director Daniel Stamm has a good eye and skill for these kinds of stories and could work well within something darker and edgier. The horror left something to be desired and may have worked better if it never showed the actual moment, Reservoir Dogs style, but everything else surrounding it. But Prey for the Devil ended up being a fun Friday night, and if you can get into these types of movies, there is fun to be had during the great month of October.

Prey for the Devil arrives in theaters October 28, 2022 from Lionsgate.

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About the Author

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Lance Vlcek was raised in the aisles of Family Video in the south suburbs of Chicago. He's a fan of fun schlock like Friday The 13th Part 7 and Full Moon Entertainment but also loves genre classics like Evil Dead and Big Trouble In Little China. Lance does many things outside of genre consumption, with his favorites being his homemade Chicago pizza recipe, homemade rum, and video editing. He has four Sugar Gliders, a love for beach bars, and claims Brett Morgen's favorite Bowie album must be Changesonebowie based on his soulless documentary!