In my review for Saint Maud, I noted that most religious horror isn’t actually about religion it portrays. Most religious horror films tend to be about fights with monsters rather than faith. Instead of a test of faith, these films end being battles between good priests and evil demons. Monsters with rules that can be defeated by good men or women whose faith is unquestionable. They rarely deal with the character of our heroes in the face of such cosmic horrors
For the most of its run time, Prey for the Devil falls into this category. A demonic entity has stalked our heroine Sister Ana, played by Jacquelyn Byers, throughout her life. As a child, it possessed her mother but as an adult, it may possess a young girl in the care of Saint Michaels, a school for exorcists in Boston. Can Sister Anna become an exorcist to save this young girl? Will this demonic entity reveal the reasons it haunts this poor servant of God? The answer to those questions is yes and probably in the sequel? This film is mostly fantasy but occasionally it ventures into actual theology.
The idea of exorcists that exists in Prey for the Devil is out of a fantasy. In this film, schools exist throughout the world to train young priests in the war against the concept of demonic evil. This is something that can be studied thanks to regular classes and a well-kept occult library. There’s a steady supply of Bibles and cross for this holy army. This school has medical facilities and an intake process to make sure these are legit cases of possession. Facilities exist to contain the possessed and of course there’s catacombs under the building. You know the catacombs that exist all throughout Boston.
Meanwhile, the demons operate as the opposites of the priest. These aren’t abstract evils here to test Sister Anna. They are an evil that can be overcome. If you know the right rituals and the correct words, they can be stopped. These demons do typical movie demon things. They creepily sing to folks. Once possessed people can crawl up walls and spines can bend until u-shapes. Of course, they can only do things acceptable in a PG-13 film. Nothing as profane as masturbating with a cross but hey, maggots ooze out of an open sore.
Surprisingly, though the filmmakers seem to actually understand the faith at the center of this film. When Father Quinn, played by reliable genre actor Colin Salmon, describes the purpose of baptisms, it’s actually correct. That the film centers on whether or not a woman can become an exorcist seems rooted in the ongoing debate of women as priests. The film doesn’t shy away from the fact that exorcism can be damaging to the victim. This also becomes a philosophical debate on the nature of possession between Sister Anna and Father Quinn. Even at the end, the film makes a reference to actual female exorcist Saint Catherine of Sienna. Clearly one of the writers did their research.
Prey for the Devil is less a struggle of faith and more a battle of good and evil. The film veers mostly into territory we’ve seen in films labeled religious horror. Good people overcome evil forces with the tools of their office and because they are representative of the idea of good. Surprisingly though, this film also gets to reflect the real faith it claims to represent.