Fantasia 2014: ‘Let Us Prey’ offers a tight, tense horror experience

What works best about Let us Prey is how much it manages to do with very little.
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Let us Prey posterLet Us Prey
Written by David Cairns and Fiona Watson
Directed by Brian O’Malley
Ireland/UK, 2014

‘Irish horror movie’ isn’t a phrase that comes up a lot, unless someone brings up Grabbers, and why on Earth would anyone do that. And yet, Fantasia 2014 has seen the unveiling of Let Us Prey, a new horror film by first time director Brian O’Malley, which is already making waves in the horror film circuit, and with good reason. Let Us Prey is a tense, tightly-wound and effective horror film that shows incredible promise from O’Malley, and delivers both for gore fans and those in search of something a little deeper than mere exploitation.

The film initially plays out like a much less funny version of Hot Fuzz, as its protagonist, the serious, by-the-books Police Constable Rachel Heggie, is stationed at a sleepy station house staffed largely by the lazy, the corrupt, and the unprofessional. But rather than The Wicker Man, Let Us Prey takes cues more from Assault on Precinct 13 and End of Days as a mysterious figure arrives and begins to slowly turn the police and prisoners against themselves, bringing chaos, death, and lots and lots of fire.

What works best about Let Us Prey is how much it manages to do with very little. Other directors may chafe under the limitations of a small handful of sets and locales, a cast barely numbering in the double digits, and what was most likely a budget barely fit to cover the craft services bill on an episode of Community. O’Malley rises to the challenge, however, using the few elements at his disposal effectively, and drenching the entire thing in a heavy, oppressive atmosphere. The rest of the weight is carried by stars Liam Cunningham as the mysterious stranger and Pollyana McIntosh as PC Heggie. Cunningham bleeds pure malevolence, even when simply sitting and staring at the wall, and McIntosh is one of the stronger female horror leads in recent memory.

Let us Prey header

The word ‘apocalyptic’ gets thrown around a fair bit, but Let Us Prey for one lives up to it. From the opening shots of Cunningham standing atop a craggy shore, looking for all the world like the world’s most sinister puffin, to the fiery, violent climax. Let Us Prey feels truly apocalyptic, and the chilling final shot gives the sense that what we’ve seen was just the overture to something even more horrifying.

Let Us Prey isn’t perfect. Occasionally a nagging voice in the viewer’s head asks, “Is everyone in this town a secret serial killer?”, and quite reasonably so. The last minute transformation of one supporting character into a barbed-wire wearing, shotgun-toting, bible-quoting Final Boss feels somewhat contrived, a way to ratchet up the excitement in lieu of a more natural evolution of the tension the film plays on up until that point. But with that in mind, Let Us Prey still presents a lot for horror fans to love: an interesting idea, held on the shoulders of some very strong performances and expertly maintained atmosphere and tension, with enough violence and gore to keep things interesting without being excessive.

— Thomas O’Connor

Please visit the official website of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

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