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Let Us Prey
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by Jay Seaver

"Goes big well, but then fizzles."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: After seeing this, a festival buddy suggested that part of the reason this fell flat for her was that we'd just seen another over-the-top revenge piece in "Puzzle". I didn't have quite the same reaction; where she was bored, I was actually pretty well sucked in for most of it, from the "Hell is coming" opening titles to much of the big standoff, but afterward I sort of shrugged, said it was a movie I had seen, and moved on.

It takes place over the course of one night, P.C. Rachel Heggie's first night on the job in a small Scottish town. Even before arriving at the station, she sees a speeding driver run a man down, and while the victim seems to vanish into thin air, she still brings the kid in, putting him in a cell next to a former teacher locked up for another domestic violence claim that will probably evaporate in the morning. It was looking like a rough night anyway, with cells filling up and uncompromising Rachel rubbing the other two constables the wrong way, and then the hit-and-run victim shows up, initially dazed and untalkative - although when he does start communicating, he has a knack for putting things on edge that may be supernatural.

Start with the good: Pollyanna McIntosh owns this movie as Rachel, with the hard-ass rookie cop absolutely holding her own against the other characters, all of whom are against her at various moments. She's a taut mass of determined body language but never becomes monotonous, in part because she's damn good at letting the audience see how much she's trying to look tougher than she fears she may be even while still being fairly formidable. McIntosh is complemented by Liam Cunningham, who is great as a sarcastic spirit of vengeance. Once "Six" reveals himself as not being the victim Rachel expected, Cunningham gets to spot gravelly, disdainful lines at the whole cast of characters in a way that's just barbed enough to get under their skin; is a sort of certainty and control that is obvious without announcing itself. They've got good support, too, with Bryan Larkin and Hanna Stanbridge playing partners in more ways than one, Douglas Russell taking a reserved character in eye-opening directions, and a jail full of folks rope for retribution.

The pace moves. The film may not always be barreling straight ahead, but director Brian O'Malley seldom gives the audience moments of downtime that are immediately identifiable as such, cranking up the tension as much as possible between the big moments. And for a thriller that is pointedly small in scale - roughly half the film takes place in the station, and the cast is rather constrained beyond the core - O'Malley still like to go for big moments, whether they be the main title which feel like an announcement or later scenes where blood flows freely and fire erupts, and he pulls them off well enough to make them thrilling.

But it becomes too much at some point. The sheer number of people who have committed horrible crimes in such close proximity to each other becomes a bit much to take, even if the film is meant to have a certain pessimistic worldview. The mythology is pulling from fairly specific Biblical sources, with Six and Sgt. MacReady trading verses back and forth that just don't mean that much to the non-Christians in the audience. The film also has a hard time separating the visceral thrill of supernatural vengeance from how it also wants us to have issues with the questionable morality involved, which makes an end that should pack a punch kind of a fizzle.

That's unfortunate, because O'Malley shows a great deal of potential here, and does many things well. Hopefully his next movie is able to go big in just the right places.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=27345&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/20/14 13:37:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2014 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Stanley Film Festival For more in the 2015 Stanley Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 26-May-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Brian O'Malley

Written by
  David Cairns
  Fiona Watson

Cast
  Polyanna McIntosh
  Liam Cunningham
  Douglas Russell



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