United Kingdom/Ireland. Directed by Brian O’Malley, 2014. Starring Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh. 92 minutes.
The Irish character actor Liam Cunningham–best known these days for playing the gruff but sensitive Davos Seaworth on Game of Thrones–tackles a very different kind of role in his latest cinematic effort, Let Us Prey. In it, he plays a vagrant who survives what should be a fatal automobile accident, and later shows up at a police station with a habit of playing with matches, a tendency to shed crow feathers, a little bit of dangerous knowledge about each and every other person there, constable and prisoner alike–and a disconcerting desire to cause trouble.
The character, never formally named but dubbed “Six” in the credits after the number of prison cell he ends up occupying, seems tailor-made for Cunningham, who seems to specialize in a dangerous-yet-thoughtful demeanor and a thousand-yard stare that has doubtless seen shit that would turn your hair white. He turns in an outstanding performance, which shouldn’t surprise you. But Let Us Prey really belongs to co-star Pollyanna McIntosh, who made quite the impression a few years back as the title character in Lucky McKee’s The Woman. Here, she plays Rachel Heggie, a police constable with a reputation for insubordination on her first night on a new beat, and whose new sergeant and fellow cops don’t like her much. McIntosh brings a ferocity and tenacity to Rachel–who has a genuinely shitty backstory–that won’t surprise her fans.
Indeed, all of the performances–including Jonathan Watson as a domestic abuser and Niall Greig Fulton as a physician with a novel approach to the Hippocratic oath–are excellent. That’s a very good thing, because this is the sort of horror movie where just about every character is, at best, a selfish, petty little shit and, at worst, undeniably evil–and the filmmakers seem to intend for the audience to gain their entertainment in watching “Six” (an obvious supernatural agent with a tendency to speak in terms vaguely reminiscent of the Old Testament) manipulate them into getting theirs. Not that I expect every character to be relatable or sympathetic, but here the most likable character, apart from Six and Rachel, is a juvenile delinquent who can’t bring himself to confess to having run over a schoolmate earlier in the evening…and it gets a bit alienating. Plus, it stretches the story a bit: while the script implies Six somehow called these various sinners to the police station for his own purposes, that’s still a lot of nastiness for one burg, and the audience might find itself agreeing with the exasperated Rachel when she screams, “What the fuck is with this town?”
The film establishes its almost operatic grand guignol tone right at the start, with a bombastic title sequence that seems like it would be more comfortable as a prog-metal video. I can’t begrudge director Brian O’Malley and screenwriters David Cairns and Fiona Watson their collective desire to take things over the top; this is, after all, a film where death comes in the form of battering rams and shoeshine machines. But the direction would have benefitted from O’Malley cranking his stylization back a couple of notches; several of the flashbacks lack any sort of coherence.
Composer Steve Lynch has gained some accolades for his retro synth-based score, and I liked what little I could make out, but at many times the sound designer buries it under a constant cacophony of foley. Even the most innocuous of noises–the advancing minutes of a clock, the flick of a light switch–is delivered with the volume of a gunshot, and it’s the rare important event that isn’t accompanied by the sudden screech of noisy instruments.
Let It Prey will doubtless please those who like their horror big, noisy, and intense. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it a lot of work for me to look beyond the surface of the stylistic choices and while I did enjoy the performances, it didn’t seem there was much of substance there. As always, your mileage may vary.