DVDanger: Let Us Prey
Star, director on strong women, evil, and rape in film
By Richard Whittaker,
3:46PM, Tue. May 26, 2015
There's a theory in religion that the Devil isn't just evil. Instead, what if he's doing a job that no one else can? Dealing with sinners, enforcing morality, handing down punishments to those that deserve it. As new release Let Us Prey ponders, isn't the Devil really God's cop?
In this Scottish-set morality horror, Pollyanna McIntosh (Love Eternal, Lucky McKee's The Woman) plays Constable Rachel Heggie, newly assigned to a small Scottish seaside town. Yet not everything is as it seems, with everyone from the local repeat offender to the village doctor having a dark secret. Not that Heggie doesn't come with some baggage, a disturbing tale that is already the talk of the town. And then there's Six (Liam Cunningham, best known as Game of Thrones' Davos Seaworth), a strange figure who emerged from the wild seas and is now sat in the police station, doing nothing. Yet somehow, even as he sits, stoic and implacable, everyone around him seems to get their just desserts.
Director Brian O'Malley admits that, as a child growing up in Catholic Ireland, he became fascinated with the Devil. In school, he was told that sinners went to Hell. But if you don't sin, or your sins are not damnation-worthy ("as a kid you never really did anything particularly nasty"), then what's to fear? O'Malley said, "As a kid, I always had this notion that he might be some kind of a dark hero, in many respects. If you did not wrong, then arguably if he's not against you, he's for you. When I read the script, I saw him immediately as a subversive hero, an anti-hero."
Austin Chronicle: As a director, you're faced with the challenge of having a protagonist who rarely moves and is mostly silent or absent from the scene of what he's instigated.
Brian O'Malley: For me, the protagonist is actually Pollyanna. Liam used the term 'the man' because it was this thing his dad used to say when he was growing up. 'Who's the man in this film?' meaning who's the main guy. For me, Liam's really the puppetmaster in this story, but it's her story.
Part of that's down to casting. When you cast a guy like Liam Cunningham, he has a great presence. He's really good at not saying anything but still being quite menacing. That played a massive role, and had I had a less charismatic actor, the film might have struggled. But I think because every time you returned to the cell, you were quite interested to see what he might do or say. I think that meant that not spending that much time with him, and not doing that much with him, that mystery about him was enough to sustain the momentum of the film.
Meanwhile you've got Pollyanna upstairs getting into all sorts of trouble.
AC: Heggie as a character has an interesting moral trajectory.
Pollyanna McIntosh: Yes. I think some people will be pleased with the ending, and some people will be furious with the ending, and I think that's all good by me.
AC: A lot of the story is about the question of what justice is, and putting that against a Biblical background.
PM: I was reading an interview this morning that somebody tweeted me, and the reviewer was actually saying that he's religious, and he recognized that some people will be offended by some of it, but for him that wasn't the case, because he felt that it let you make your own decisions, but that the ending may be the most troubling part for some people, but he was happy to just go with it.
It's a movie, and it doesn't take itself too seriously. While it allows the audience to come to its own conclusion, and have a think about it, it's never billed as a moral tale or an educational film.
AC: There's something reminiscent of your other great horror role in The Woman, in that there's this odd path to empowerment. Was that part of what appealed to you about Let Us Prey, that it hits on the same themes?
PM: I suppose so. I hadn't really thought of it like that. But in choosing what I do, and in choosing who I'm going to collaborate with and who I'm going to trust to do the work that I want to do, I guess there are are just elements that make those decisions, and I might not even be cognizant of why.
I think, as a woman in this business, because it predominately is run by men, I think sometimes some stuff about the female experience is missed. I'm always interested in people who are willing to explore it, and people who are willing to see what might add to that, to make that more appealing to a female audience. And also just to even up the voice balance a bit, for the male audience too.
AC: Heggie's already been through the ringer before the film starts. It's made clear early on that she was the victim of sexual assault as a child, but with a lot of debate about shows like Game of Thrones and their use of rape as a plot device, it's become an increasingly thorny topic for genre films to handle.
PM: I feel for me that it's such a common thing, and it's such a taboo, and it's not discussed enough, it's not raised enough. I thought it was great the way that Rachel does have it as a hidden thing inside her, but everybody else knows about it. There's this aspect of the girl that came back, this girl that disappeared and lost her family but then came back, and what happened in the in-between time. She is vilified for it by her colleagues when she comes in, because they see her as being a bit of a celebrity, but uptight and secretive. But it wasn't eroticized or made exciting in any way, and I appreciated that.
BO'M: It's something I'd be quite sensitive to do. I do personally find that quite disturbing to watch in films. Look, it's a horror movie, and it is exploitative. But when I was making it, I tried my best not exploit that scenario. It's difficult as a director to tell if you've achieved it or not, but I haven't been taken to task on it yet, so hopefully it's OK.
PM You've got the character who's undergone this awful trauma. It's clear that it's affected her, but she isn't a victim, at the end of the day.
BO'M: Pollyanna was quite vocal about that when we met early in the process. Having read the script, she was quite clear, regardless of what was on the page, how she saw the character, and what she wanted the character to be. The script was rewritten with Pollyanna's take in mind, so I hope we were sensitive to that.
AC: What was the biggest change between the script and where Heggie ends up as a character?
PM: I wouldn't describe it that way. If Brian wasn't who he is, I wouldn't have done the film, is the best way to put it. You get to sort these things out together. It's not just about script, it's about how it's going to be brought to life. I thought there was a lot there in the script that I would love to do, but if it was handled by another director, it wouldn't have been the film I wanted to do.
BO'M: Thank you.
PM: You're very welcome. Probably the most obvious thing that you could point to is that we did have the introduction to Rachel and the ubiquitous 'girl in shower' scene, to show that she's scarred, and also to show that she's tough as she's having this freezing cold or boiling hot shower, and to show that she's girding her loins for something. But really that doesn't work for me. It's like, oh, look at her as a sexualized female. It was important to me that Rachel was not seen in that way. It's things that can be missed like that I think can make a film more interesting and don't take us down that familiar route where we're all comfortable, but we're not really growing.
Let Us Prey (Dark Sky Films) is available today on DVD and Blu-ray.