The new horror film “Prey for the Devil” (released in theaters Oct. 28) is set at a Vatican-run school for exorcists, reopened after a global rising demand for exorcisms. The film follows Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers), a nun with a troubled past who longs to be trained in the art of expelling demons. I watched it, if only to ensure that you don’t have to. Here are some questions I had while watching it.
1. What in the proverbial hell does the title even mean? Quite obviously, it implies that victims of exorcism are prey for the devil, like gazelles are to lions or neighborhood cats are to pit bulls. But I have the sinking suspicion that it is also a pun for “pray for the devil,” which neither the Church asks for or Satan even wants. Puns are coincidentally also like pit bulls; I cross the street if I see one coming.
2. How rich do they think the Church is? I have long since come to terms with the fact that people believe the Church has a Scrooge McDuck pool of gold coins in the basement. I know this isn’t true because my Catholic high school football field was comprised mainly of mud and denial.
This is the type of movie where the convent belongs on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Celibate.” The exorcism academy locks up troubling cases of possession behind an elaborate prison of plexiglass and thumbprint scanners. I don’t remember that envelope at the collection.
3. Why is the exorcist school in Boston? Of course you want close proximity to demons, but that doesn’t mean you set up camp on their front porch. It’s almost as bad of an idea as placing your bureaucracy in the heart of Italy. Is Avignon still taking reservations?
4. What are they wearing? The headmaster priest of the exorcism school wears a rosary about his neck. You, sir, are a man of the cloth, not third in the rotation for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Our heroine nun only wears her habit while on the clock, tossing it on like a hairnet after punching in for her shift at the nun factory. Indeed, most of the film feels like the director trying to find excuses to show off Jacqueline Byers’ locks. In his defense, it is a very fine head of hair. Flaxen yet healthy, the shade moonlight or perhaps that of a wizened golden retriever.
5. Why are they so furious at the presence of a nun? Sister Ann originally works at school as a nurse but is soon allowed to sit in on classes strictly as an observer. Some priestly classmates are welcoming, others are frothing with rage at this feminine intrusion. But this is 2022, and a nun getting a degree is hardly breaking the stained-glass ceiling. It’s foolish to get mad at a nun getting a doctorate when there are female doctors of the Church.
6. Why haven’t the demons seen any recent movies? The possessions here hit all the familiar beats from “The Exorcist”; scabious faces, scary voices, snapping the spine like a strip mall chiropractor. It’s hard not to stifle a yawn when they crawl across the ceiling. If you’re going to play Spider-Man, then at least have the decency to be Tobey Maguire. I have a theory that demons love “The Exorcist” the same way mobsters love “The Godfather.” Life starts to imitate art as these derivative devils fall back on the old tropes to fill in their gaps of imagination.
7. Do they think priests grow on trees? About four priests meet gnarly ends during their exorcist training. All I could think about was how many parishes they were going to have to consolidate the next day.
8. Why did they waste such a dynamite premise? Hogwarts for exorcists is a fantastic pitch, so it’s baffling that most of the film takes place away from the classrooms. There are a thousand better potential movies ignored so they could create this one. Could you imagine an exorcist frat comedy? Alpha Omega house dropping crusty Dean Monsignor’s Vespa into the baptismal font. The power of Christ compels you to theaters this Friday.
9. What is the hierarchy of sacramental weapons? In their battles with demons, our heroes use a variety of sacramentals to inconsistent results. Crucifixes tend to droop like wilted flowers. Rosaries are more scaldingly productive, which is confusing because a rosary has a teensier crucifix on it. Holy water kicks in only at narrative dead ends. Most sacramentals operate on a Tinkerbell logic, only working if you clap your hands and have faith. But the power of sacramentals comes from God alone. They’re not a ragtag Little League team, they don’t need us to believe in them to reach their potential.
10. Why did I still kind of like this movie, in spite of myself? Unfortunately, if your exorcist academy lobby has a 50-foot-tall statue of St. Michael the Archangel crushing a demon underfoot, I’ll probably have a decent time. It’s a sickness, so while the statue may be made of stone, I’m not.