Film Review: Brian O'Malley's gruesome horror Let us Prey

Film Review: Brian O'Malley's gruesome horror Let us Prey

“WE’RE not in the redemption game,” proclaims the dark stranger at the centre of Brian O’Malley’s Let Us Prey, “we’re in the punishment game,” he helpfully explains.

Whatever else you might expect from O’Malley’s Grand Guignol carve-up, you can bet that this promise is kept. All concerned get punishment aplenty.

Some of that gruesome pain will be experienced by the movie’s viewers, though they’ll probably enjoy it, however vicariously. 

Let Us Prey is O’Malley’s debut feature. It screened in late March at the Jameson International Film Festival in Dublin having previously successfully toured the specialist horror-genre circuit.

Last year it played at the Manchester Grimmfest, the Toronto After Dark Festival and Sweden’s Monsters of Film, chilling audiences’ spines every time.

Set in an isolated and unnamed Scottish hamlet, the story is a kind of moral parable crossed with an apocalyptic tale.

Let Us Prey is like John Carpenter and Clint Eastwood made a modern-western after reading the book of Revelation. O’Malley isn’t coy about showing his influences, alluding liberally to cult favourites Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and High Plains Drifter (1973).

When a mysterious, dark-coated figure named Six (played by Irish electrician-turned-actor Liam Cunningham) presents himself at a dilapidated police station in the middle of the night, a deadly reckoning is due.

letusprey-78 Cunningham takes on the role of his character Six with gusto

He just happens to appear the same evening that WPC Rachel Heggie (Pollyanna McIntosh) begins her new posting.

Fresh-faced and idealistic, WPC Heggie is keen to serve her community and do some good, for all the good she can do. She finds the cells at the local lock-up are full of lowlifes, narks and nonces, none of them destined for sainthood.

The officers on duty aren’t much better. The station is domineered by the presence of the stone-faced Sergeant MacCready (Douglas Russell), whose career consists mainly in taking bribes and beating confessions out of suspects.

O’Malley stages the action in something like real time, the 90 minutes of film duration closely equalling the story time. This gives the drama the bite of immediacy, as though the characters are genuinely surprised and overwhelmed by events.

When moral vengeance comes, its power is swift. The narrative makes effective use of the remote story setting, a favoured horror-genre trope. There’s a feeling of being trapped in what might literally be the middle of nowhere. “This is a one-horse town,” someone says. “A pale f*****g horse,” Six replies.

The script is flavoured by dry comedic irony within its unforgiving gore. This is not always a plus in a horror narrative. For all the fantastical action we are supposed to feel the characters’ “real” terror. 

One weakness in Let Us Prey is that it doesn’t imply a deeper meaning beneath its theatrics. Carpenter’s early films (his good ones), like Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980), illuminated the darkness at the heart of respectable, suburban America.

There are some compelling set pieces in O’Malley’s movie and it’s welcome to see another new Irish director with an expressive visual style. But there is ultimately more surface than depth.  

Nevertheless, this is an impressive first feature and suggests there’s more to emerge of O’Malley’s cinematic talent.

The performers are terrific, throwing themselves into it all with gusto.

Cunningham, like Ned Dennehy and David Wilmot, is a second-tier Irish actor who is always distinctly watchable. For the role of Six, those arched eyebrows and stern jaw give him a suitably diabolical countenance. When he appears on the rocks, surrounded by rooks, he could be Mephistopheles himself. “The price of our sins is paid for in blood,” he warns. 

Definitely one for horror aficionados, there’s even a nod to Nosferatu (1922). If you enjoy guts-and-gory terror, Let Us Prey won’t disappoint.

Brian O’Malley’s Let Us Prey is on limited release in Britain and Ireland from Friday, April 24

Watch the trailer here: