In many ways, prey for the devil is a fairly classic possession film: a demon possesses a vulnerable person (in this case, a child); scary stuff happens; Warriors of God must figure out how to exorcise the demon. Looking only at the rough outline, it’s pretty much interchangeable with much better movies like The Exorcist and Insidious. The unique twist that Prey trying to take is a feminist angle — in the Catholic Church, only male priests are allowed to practice or even learn about exorcisms, but Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byer) isn’t about to let the patriarchy get him down. She believes she is called upon to contribute to this war against the minions of Hell, and she is willing to break the rules to do so. However, PreyThe attempt to be progressive is ultimately hypocritical, as it places the blame for demonic possession on the possessed themselves.
In most exorcism movies, the victim becomes possessed through no fault of their own. Sometimes it’s the result of moving into a haunted house, like in Insidious. Sometimes it is a consequence of coming into contact with a cursed object, as in Stigmas and Constantine. And sometimes the victim was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, like in The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. But prey for the devil blames the victim for his own possession.
Initially, Sister Ann theorizes that people make themselves vulnerable to possession because they believe they are unworthy of God’s love. It’s not that different from blaming abuse victims for staying with their abusers because they have low self-esteem or because the abusers have managed to convince them that no one else will love them. . Ann thinks that if she can just convince someone that God still loves them, they can cast out the demon on their own.
Punishing women for exercising control
However, Ann’s theory is called into question after the failed attempt to exorcise Father Dante (Christian Navaro) sister, Emilie. The alternative explanation for his possession, however, is even more problematic. Dante reveals that Emilia was raped, got pregnant, and chose to have an abortion. Either Sister Ann is right, and Emilia now believes that because of her choice, she is no longer worthy of God’s love, which leaves her vulnerable to possession; or the abortion itself made her vulnerable to possession because she committed a mortal sin and attracted the attention of hell, inviting the demon. Either way, the film draws a direct line between Emilia’s choice to exert control over her own body and possession, and an indirect line between being raped and becoming possessed.
Worse still, after attempting to exorcise Emilia, Ann and Dante believe they have succeeded and leave. But they learn the next day that the demon simply retreated — he wasn’t kicked out — and Emilia later committed suicide. The film meted out the ultimate punishment for abortion, and Sister Ann leaves exorcism school in disgrace and retires to her convent.
We then get some crucial backstory on our main character. She always believed that her abusive mother was actually possessed, and not schizophrenic as she was diagnosed, and now we learn that her mother killed herself to stop hurting her daughter. The demon had possessed her to get to Ann, whom her mother believed had been chosen by God for a divine purpose. After this traumatic childhood, Annie was placed in foster care, but she started drinking and acting, likely due to the extreme emotional baggage she was carrying. At 15, she became pregnant and she shyly confesses to Dante that she was too nervous to find out who the father was. Although the film is somewhat sympathetic to her trauma and abuse, it portrays her pregnancy as a stupid teenage mistake, rather than using the correct term for having sex with someone who is too drunk ( and in most states, too young) to consent: sexual assault.
Now the daughter she gave up for adoption, Natalie, is possessed by the same demon that possessed Ann’s mother, and he still wants Ann. Again, the film punishes both Ann and Natalie for Ann’s choices and, as it did with Emilia, ties vulnerability to demonic possession to abuse and assault.
Horror movies have been punishing women for their sexuality for decades, so much so that it’s become an old trope that if a character has sex in the movie they’re certain to die, and the “last girl” is always somehow purer than the others. Perhaps the most famous example is Friday 13but the trope is so well known that 2011 The cabin in the woods famously parodied it, blaming it on the whims of mysterious Elder Gods.
“Prey for the Devil” goes even further
He doesn’t just punish women for having sex; he punishes them for attempting to exercise control over their own bodies and, unspoken, for their own sexual assaults. The film seems to try to be progressive – at the start it talks about how women were persecuted by priests hundreds of years ago and acknowledges that their methods were barbaric. Yet, in the end, Ann saves her daughter by drowning herself in the pool of holy water as priests used to do to people accused of witchcraft, retroactively justifying the practice. Father Dante is able to revive her, but the implication that the priests were right to do what they did – and that women’s bodies really need to be controlled by others – remains.
Intentionally or not, horror stories often end up being allegories for all sorts of things — racism, mental illness, loss, even societal fears like alien invasion and pandemics. When done right, like the powerful illustrations of living with grief in The Babadook and Cabinet of Curiosities“The Murmurs”, they can help us better understand our own traumas. But when done poorly, they can send ugly and regressive messages, especially about vulnerable groups of people. prey for the devil demonizes women while hiding behind a supposedly empowered female protagonist, and this film and message does not belong in the 21st century.