Directed by Daniel Stamm, “Prey for the Devil” is the story of a girl named Ann who had a difficult childhood, where she saw her mother losing her mind and abandoning her at a very young age. The traumas of the past kept haunting her until she decided to face her fears and get done with them once and for all. If you are looking for a nerve-wracking horror story that keeps you captivated, then “Prey for the Devil” has nothing much to offer. The film makes use of familiar tropes and tries to retell the same story that we have seen a million times, without even taking an ounce of effort to be authentic in its approach. The film is devoid of any suspense or thrilling elements and mostly relies on jump scares to keep the viewer invested. So, let’s try to analyze the journey of the protagonist and try to understand her motivations and intentions.
“Prey for the Devil” begins by informing us that in 1895 AD, a unique school was established in Rome for the priests where they learnt to perform exorcisms. So, people from all over the world started bringing their kin to the institution to get treated. With the passage of time, the church officials saw an unprecedented growth in the number of people getting possessed or suffering from similar mental illnesses, for which there was often no explanation. Therefore, it was decided that more such schools for treating demonic possession would be opened outside of Rome. One of them was opened in Boston, Massachusetts, by the name of St. Michael, the Archangel School of Exorcism. Sister Ann Kraja, who used to work there, once had an up-close encounter with a possessed person in the past. Her own mother had been a victim, though the doctors had called it an acute case of schizophrenia. According to Dr. Peters, it was the superstition of the Catholic Church that had led to the torture and death of hundreds of non-conformists. She said that the people were just suffering from neurotic and psychotic disorders, and had the church been a bit more scientific in its approach, they would have been able to cure them. She told the students that there was a baptismal well in the basement of the school where a lot of women were drowned by clergymen in the past, who believed them to be evil spirits. Ann got involved in the debate and asked Dr. Peters if she was implying that demonic possession was a mere figment of the imagination of people who lacked a scientific temper. Dr. Peters gave a very diplomatic reply and said that there were things that were beyond her understanding too, but still, she would rather put her faith in psychological evaluation than in baseless superstitions. The church had made it mandatory for a suspected case of demonic possession to first undergo a thorough psychological evaluation and if needed only then proceed towards exorcism.
Ann was a rebel of sorts, but surprisingly, she had an amazing connection with almost every patient she came in contact with. She didn’t treat them as mere subjects but tried to make them feel comfortable, as she knew that they were already quite petrified to be in an institute that was known for practicing exorcism. A new patient named Natalie was brought to St. Michael’s, and Ann immediately developed a liking for her. Ann felt as if she knew the ten-year-old from before. There was something very familiar about the way Natalie looked at Ann with her innocent eyes. Ann wanted to make the most of her time at the institute. She wanted to learn how to perform exorcisms. She often sneaked into Father Quinn’s class and tried to grasp as much knowledge as she could. Sister Euphemia was vehemently against that, and she was, in fact, quite fed up with Ann for not abiding by the rules of the church. Ann didn’t care if there was no precedent that supported her cause. She was firm even when the misogyny of the age-old norms stood in her way. Sister Euphemia considered her to be naively ambitious and was scared that one day, it would land her in grave trouble. Everything changed when Ann found herself in an unusual situation that drew the attention of the entire administration to her. Ann was attacked by a patient named Clark, and the investigators couldn’t find a plausible cause behind it. The demonically possessed Clark was triggered by her mere presence, and Father Quinn realized that Ann had some sort of a personal connection with the devil. Father Quinn wanted to work with Ann further, which is why he got permission from the Cardinal to let her attend his classes. Sister Euphemia was against it, but she couldn’t do much after the Cardinal gave it a green signal.
Natalie’s health started deteriorating, and she was completely under the control of the demon. She was moved to a special observation chamber as it was no longer safe to keep her in normal wards. Ann, Father Dante and all the other students were brought in front of the observatory by Father Quinn so that he could put their knowledge to test. According to Dr. Peters’ reports, Natalie was suffering from idiopathic epilepsy, but she also failed to understand a lot of the psychological and personality changes that the young girl was having. Father Quinn chose Dante and Raymond to go inside and perform an exorcism on Natalie. They started the process, but soon the situation got out of hand. Natalie climbed the wall and started making all sorts of screeching noises. For a moment, she stopped and stared at Ann, who was standing on the other side of the glass wall. She hurt herself which is when Father Quinn realized that he would have to intervene. To everyone’s surprise, even Quinn wasn’t able to control Natalie. Ann entered the chamber without asking for permission, and instead of saying the exorcism prayer, she started calling Natalie. She tried awakening the conscious mind of the little girl, making her realize that she could fight the demon inside her. Ann’s methods worked out, and Natalie was finally saved (at least the priests believed so at that moment). Dante told Ann that it was her victory since she was able to do something that no priest had ever done. Though Ann proved her worth in front of Father Quinn, the danger was still not over. All terminally ill patients were mostly sent to the Vatican, but Ann didn’t want that for Natalie. She had realized that the mortality rate of patients sent to the Vatican was more than 90 percent, and since she had developed a connection with the little girl, she knew that she could take better care of her. In order to prove to the Cardinal that a patient like Natalie could be treated in Boston itself, Ann and Dante decided to treat Emilia. Emilia was Dante’s sister and had been showing symptoms of demonic possession for quite some time.
Ann agreed to work alongside Dante and perform an exorcism on Emilia. They were able to make the demon retreat, and Ann was happy as now she could plead with the authorities to keep Natalie in Boston itself. But it was a misconception on their part that they had defeated the demon. The demon had deceived them, and as soon as they lowered their guards, it attacked with full force and took Emilia’s life. The Cardinal was infuriated after learning about the irresponsible behavior of Ann and Dante. Ann decided to return to the Sisters of St. Mary with the guilt of being responsible for the death of Emilia.
After going through a lot of case files, Ann realized that contrary to what the church said, the whole process of exorcism was a rather personal fight. She said that in order to save the patient, one needed to perceive the real intentions of the demon and what it was trying to do. She told Father Quinn that a demon always wanted to make the victim feel unworthy of God’s love. Ann was of the opinion that it was very important to create a connection with a patient and let them know that the priests saw them, something similar to what she had tried doing with Natalie. She told Quinn that sometimes the guilt inside a pure soul becomes a reason why they get possessed. Ann also believed that the demon who had possessed her mother actually wanted to possess her. Her mother always said that she heard a voice inside her head. Ann was subjected to a lot of abuse, but her mother always took the defense of the fact that she was not acting of her own will and that something sinister inside her was governing her actions. Towards the end of the film, “Prey for the Devil,” Ann realizes that her mother had died only to save her. Her mother knew that she wouldn’t be able to fight the devil for a very long time, which is why she believed that if she ended her life, then her daughter would be saved, and the devil wouldn’t be able to harm her. But again, she was wrong in believing that her death could stop the devil. The voice inside her mother’s head told her that Ann was the chosen one who was sent to earth to fight evil. That is why the devil was finding ways to make her surrender and eventually destroy her.
When Ann was fifteen, she got pregnant with a girl. That girl was none other than Natalie, who was now possessed by the demon. Ann realized that Natalie was her daughter when she saw a locket in her possession that she had given to her baby girl when she was being taken away by the authorities. Dante made Ann sneak inside the basement of the school, where there was a pool of holy water that had been there since the foundation of the compound was laid in the 18th century. Ann offered herself to the demon, who instantly left Natalie’s body and possessed her. She fought her own impulses and jumped into the holy water. Dante came at the right moment and took her out of the pool. The nightmare finally ended, and Ann was able to save Natalie and get rid of the demon.
The Cardinal appreciated the valiant effort made by Ann, and not only did he ask her to come back to St. Michaels, but as a reward, he offered her an academic research fellowship at the Vatican. Ann became the first girl in seven centuries to study exorcism in the Vatican. She was in a cab, probably leaving for the airport when she saw a woman in the crowd standing still and staring at her. She was trying to decipher what was happening when the cab driver called her name, and she knew that something was not right. The doors became automatically locked, and the cab driver came next to her in the backseat. Anne realized that the devil wasn’t done with her yet. She held her holy cross tightly and got ready to fight evil. “Prey for the Devil” left us on a cliffhanger where a lot of things are yet to be deciphered. We will probably come to know in the sequel if Ann is able to defeat the demon once and for all or if it keeps haunting her as it did in the past.
“Prey for the Devil” is a 2022 Drama Horror film directed by Daniel Stamm.
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