Monday, June 22, 2015

LET US PREY (2014) Blu-ray review

Let Us Prey (2014) d. Brian O’Malley (UK/Ireland)

Her first night in the sleepy burg to which she’s been reassigned, Constable Rachel Heggie (Pollyanna McIntosh) arrives just in time to witness a hit-and-run accident in the street; as she approaches to arrest the perpetrator (Brian Vernel), it quickly becomes apparent that the victim has somehow disappeared. She brings the young hoodlum to the police station regardless, encountering a none-too-welcoming committee in the form of staff sergeant Macready (Douglas Russell) and his two on-duty comrades in blue, the emotionally entwined Warnock (Bryan Larkin) and Mundie (Hannah Stanbridge). Our hit-and-run punching bag is ultimately discovered and recovered, sporting a superficial wound to the forehead and a decided unwillingness to chat about his identity or purpose. After the local twitchy sawbones is nearly driven mad by the very presence of the stranger, Macready locks the nameless bearded gent in the cells to keep company with his vehicular assailant, a wife-beating schoolteacher, and the now-bonkers doc. The night is off to a grand start, and as the clock ticks down toward midnight, things only get weirder and wilder as each of the inhabitants – on both sides of the bars – find their deepest, darkest secrets laid bare by the man in Cell Six....

Flipping the setting of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 by placing the menace inside the police station, screenwriters David Cairns and Fiona Watson deliver a well-polished thriller filled with flawed human characters facing off against a disturbingly powerful, apparently supernatural antagonist and one another. Director O’Malley, making his feature debut, certainly knows his way around an action scene and has done himself and the viewer a great boon by peopling the fantastic scenario with a killer cast.

Veteran character actor Cunningham wisely underplays the menace, allowing his natural screen presence to do the heavy lifting and trusting O’Malley and the rest of the ensemble to imbue Six with all the power and awe he deserves. McIntosh, such a force of nature in Lucky McKee’s The Woman, is perfect as PC Heggie, a flinty, no-nonsense exterior shielding emotional scars and baggage both recent and distant. As our square-jawed man-in-command, Russell conjures images of Willem Dafoe with hollowed cheeks and deep-set eyes, his scarred visage blazing with intensity. Alongside Cunningham, he seems to be having the most fun, the bombastic yang to Six’s taciturn ying. The rest of the cast tender fine performances across the board, each dropping their respective masks in turn to reveal the beasts beneath.

The production values are equally impressive, with Piers McGrail’s cinematography elevating the project above its presumably tight purse strings. Speaking of visuals, gorehounds will be pleased as Steph Smith serves up an array of splattery shock effects: table legs through eyes, heads bashed against cell block bars, throats slashed, bodies blasted by shotguns, and other gruesome treats. It’s an artful blend of computer-generated and practical effects that feels (mostly) organic, and while there’s nothing here well-traveled fans won’t have seen before, there are enough sanguinary treats to keep the cheers going.

The strength of Cairns and Watson’s script lies in its reveals, particularly with regard to McIntosh’s character, harboring a laundry list of issues beneath her cool exterior. Clearly a dark force to be reckoned with, there’s an inherent mystery to Cunningham’s Six and his unspoken purpose, but the ultimate revelation of his identity and connection to all concerned is a pleasing one that should keep wheels turning in viewers’ minds after the ending credits roll. If there’s a complaint to be lodged, it’s that with the exception of this final reel twist, not much new narrative ground is broken; still, it’s all done with such professionalism and proficiency that no one will have any regrets about having invested time or money. Prey is an excellent genre programmer that announces the arrival of fresh talent on both sides of the camera, and reminds us what assets Cunningham and McIntosh are to the genre.

DarkSky Films’ Blu-ray release doesn’t have much in the way of extras, but the behind-the-scenes making-of featurette packs a surprising amount of info and energy into its tidy 10-minute package. Nearly all the major cast members, O’Malley, producers John McDonnell and Brendan McCarthy, F/X queen Smith, and McGrail all get their respective moments of being cornered by the on-set documentarians, expressing admiration for their fearless leader and one another.

Let Us Prey is available now from Dark Sky Films on Blu-ray, DVD, and downloadable digital and can be ordered HERE:

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