A rookie police officer comes back to her childhood home to start her job, only to discover that Murphy’s Law applies even harder in small towns filled with ugly secrets: everything that can go wrong, will. In spades. PC. Rachel Heggie starts what should be a quiet night bringing in a teenager for hitting a pedestrian – only for said pedestrian to vanish without a trace, leaving only bloodstained headlights behind. As the night goes on, the stranger appears again and again, connected to a series of violent crimes that he seems to know too much about. Being the rookie, Heggie is left alone at the station to watch over the inhabitants of the jail, with the mysterious pedestrian who seems to know far more than he should about their darkest secrets, and a flock of screaming ravens that seem to gather right before disaster strikes.
Things get worse from there.
Given the religious imagery at play in the trailer, I went into Let Us Prey expecting to see a film choked full of biblical righteousness, but that’s not the direction the story goes in. The stranger – identified only as Six, in reference to his cell number – even has a discussion with Heggie over the expectation that dogma is influencing his actions. At its heart, Let Us Prey wants to talk about vengeance – the biblical sort, minus any specific religion or even belief to back it up. Though the film never explicitly states who – or what – Six is, his self-described “job” is to gather the souls of the wicked, usually by causing their horrible death in retribution for whatever vicious secret they’re hiding. And this small town has so many. Interesting, Six never seems inclined to justify himself or excuse any of the things he allows to happen. That is not his role in the story. He has the opportunity to save people throughout the film, save them from horrible fates, and never does. Instead, Six is a figure of brutal vengeance, striking down with look and the twirl of a wooden match. There is no nuance there. Six represents vengeance; nothing else.
That alone is fascinating. Revenge is a popular theme in all kinds of stories, especially film. However, I’ve noticed that the stories tend to go in two directions: the vengeance is justified, or the vengeance makes the victim just as bad or worse than the target of their rage. There is little to no middle ground. Let Us Prey is one of the few films I’ve found that explicitly explores this. While the people that Six targets clearly deserve what comes to them, his actions have a tendency to cause extensive collateral damage – or if not directly cause it, then allow their deaths to happen. At least eight people died over the course of Let Us Prey who – so far as the audience knows – didn’t do anything wrong, except for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, is vengeance right or wrong? Or, more specifically, is violent retribution – the messy, biblical kind – ever justified?
Well, that’s up for interpretation. Nearly every character in the film has an opinion. Let Us Prey gives us a figure of seemingly righteous vengeance who also causes immense harm to the people around him, and leaves the audience to decide where they stand with him. In that way, Six is one of the more interesting horror movie villains – what he represents isn’t simple. And there may not be one answer. I appreciate that Let Us Prey didn’t try to force one on the audience, even though the characters eventually came to their own conclusions within the story.
In short, Let Us Prey gave me a lot to think about. It developed its own sense of mythology and iconography without getting stuck on a warped understanding of Christianity, and created some truly horrifying moments with a sparse set. Let Us Prey is beautifully shot and edited with a thoughtful touch. It also has one of the most beautiful, understated openings of any movie I’ve seen recently. This is also director Brian O’Malley’s first feature length film, which belies its tight production. This is not a film that stumbles often. I look forward to seeing more of O’Malley’s work after finishing Let Us Prey; he’s one to watch.
See this one. It’s worth the time.