Director – Brian O’Malley, Screenplay – David Cairns & Fiona Watson, Producers – Eddie Dick, Brendan McCarthy & John McDonnell, Photography – Piers McGrail, Music – Steve Lynch, Visual Effects – Ronan McMeel, Visual Effects/Prosthetics – Bowsie Workshop (Aoife Noonan & Ben O’Connor), Pyrotechnic/Physical Effects Supervisor – Gerry Johnston, Makeup/Prosthetic Designer – Steph Smith, Production Design – James Lapsley. Production Company – Creative Scotland/The Irish Film Board (Bord Scannan na hEirann)/Greenhouse Media Investments/Mr. Significant Films/Makar Productions/Fantastic Films.
Liam Cunningham (Six), Pollyanna McIntosh (Constable Rachel Heggie), Douglas Russell (Sergeant Jim MacReady), Hanna Stanbridge (Constable Jennifer Mundie), Bryan Larkin (Constable Jack Warnock), Brian Vernel (Francis ‘Cesar’ Sargison), Niall Greig Fulton (Dr Duncan Hume), Jonathan Watson (Ralph Beswick)
Police constable Rachel Heggie readies for her first shift after being transferred to the tiny town of Inveer. As she walks to work, she is witness as Cesar, a local youth, hits a man in his car. She arrests Cesar but the man has vanished. As she arrives at the station, a search is sent out for the man. He is brought in but remains unspeaking and has no proof of identity or effects other than a notebook of cryptic markings. Local doctor Duncan Hume is brought in to examine him. However, when he touches the man, Hume is suddenly moved to attack him by what he sees. In interrogation, the man begins to speak. However, the things that he says drive all those he touches or talks to to confront the horrors in their life. Each of the people present, the police and prisoners alike, have done terrible things and over the course of the night, the man brings these out, driving them to acts of brutality and murder.
Let Us Prey falls into a regular theme in fantastic cinema of the Mysterious Visitor. This began with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (1968) about a stranger affecting an upper-class household in miraculous ways that were akin to a religious experience. The other side of that coin is the Mysterious Visitor whose effect is either diabolic or come to enact vengeance. Indeed, Let Us Prey has a great many similarities to the progenitor of this type, Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter (1973) in which Eastwood’s Man With No Name rode into town to enact a Biblical vengeance on the guilty for their part in the murder of an innocent. There have been a number of other variants on the theme with the likes of The Shout (1978), Brimstone and Treacle (1982), Man Facing Southeast (1986), That Eye, The Sky (1994), Shadow Hours (2000), Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q (2001), Blood River (2009), The Final Storm (2010), Outside Satan (2011) and Borgman (2013). The one of these that Let Us Prey most resembles is The Traveler (2010) in which Val Kilmer played a stranger who turns up at a police station, is locked away and then proceeded to wreak vengeance on all present. Similar things appeared in the Stephen King tv mini-series Storm of the Century (1999).
Newcomer director Brian O’Malley captivates us from the opening of the film – all stunningly photographed landscape shots in which Liam Cunningham’s stranger seems to appear out of the ocean amid wildly crashing waves, contrasted with cuts back to the empty town over which night has fallen. (The constant cuts back to the placid emptiness of the sleeping town at various points create a decided sense of foreboding). You wish that O’Malley had spent more time out of doors than in the police station where almost all of the drama takes place as his forte clearly lies in striking cinematographic composition – there is another fantastic shot not long after of a love scene in a parked car in an empty lot lit up by the halo of orange-yellow night light.
Nevertheless, once the drama of the situation and everybody’s secrets start to emerge, Brian O’Malley loves putting the screw on us. (Even if the script does require an improbable number of murders, people going off the deep end and fatal accidents all to occur in one sleepy village on the same night). The film has a real fire and brimstone judgementalism to it – especially at the ending – and the dialogue does a fine job of digging in and twisting, bringing out the secrets that everybody harbours.
The cast are excellent. The only two recognisable names are Liam Cunningham, an Irish actor with a long history in British film and tv, most recently familiar from Game of Thrones (2011-9), who is not the first person you would think of doing a role like this but delivers the ambiguities well. The other is Pollyanna McIntosh, remembered here for her astonishing performance as the mute wild girl in The Woman (2011), back playing with her native Scottish accent and unrecognisable as a tightly controlled and morally driven officer.
The film reaches a fairly whacked out ending [PLOT SPOILERS] with Niall Greig Fulton’s doctor calmly talking about killing people as an experiment in seeing if they have souls; two officers conspiring to batter him to death and then pin it on Pollyanna McIntosh when she refuses to go along with this before deciding to kill her instead; and the sergeant (Douglas Russell) walking through the burning police station, with barbed wire wrapped around his bare-chest while covered in blood and ranting Bible verses as he blows people away with a shotgun.
Brian O’Malley continued on in the horror genre with the haunted house film The Lodgers (2017).