Bloody Disgusting just debuted the trailer for Lionsgate‘s Prey for the Devil earlier this morning, the brand new horror film from The Last Exorcism director Daniel Stamm. It’s coming to theaters just in time for Halloween, releasing on the big screen on October 28, 2022.
In Prey for the Devil, “In response to a global rise in demonic possessions, the Catholic Church reopens exorcism schools to train priests in the Rite of Exorcism. On this spiritual battlefield, an unlikely warrior rises: a young nun, Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers).
“Although nuns are forbidden to perform exorcisms, a professor (Colin Salmon; Resident Evil, Alien vs. Predator, Nobody) recognizes Sister Ann’s gifts and agrees to train her. Thrust onto the spiritual frontline with fellow student Father Dante (Christian Navarro; “13 Reasons Why”), Sister Ann finds herself in a battle for the soul of a young girl (who Sister Ann believes is possessed by the same demon that tormented her own mother years ago), and soon realizes the Devil has her right where he wants her….and it wants in.”
Bloody Disgusting had a chance to chat with director Daniel Stamm about the film this week, and he explained what makes Prey for the Devil different from other films of this sort.
For starters, the exorcist at the center of this new tale is a woman.
Bloody Disgusting: This is the first time audiences will witness a possession account told from the perspective of a female exorcist. What aspect of her story did you find most compelling, and what do you hope viewers are left thinking about as they leave the theater?
Daniel Stamm: What I’m always searching for first when reading a new script are the points of conflict the story is built on. Conflict is the fuel of all drama, all suspense, all tension; to keep an audience’s interest over the length of a feature film, you need an incredible amount of fuel to burn. A story about a male exorcist has one point of conflict: church vs. demon. But a female exorcist needs to fight the demon AND the church to whose doctrine she poses a much bigger threat than the devil himself does.
The “strong female protagonist” is a buzzword that is being thrown around a lot, and I rarely have the feeling that it’s really paid off. You can hail some female Marvel characters as feminist icons, yet they are really just punching bad guys the same way their male counterparts do. It’s not like they are coming in with a new perspective and challenge the status quo. So this question was important to us when we made the movie: what skill set is our heroine accessing that her male colleagues are not? In our story, Sister Ann is saying: “You guys have made this all about yourself, enamored with the image of yourself bravely fighting demons. The devil is using your vanity to distract you – it’s time to focus on the victim, the possessed, the one you claim to be fighting for. You need to make them more than the battlefield you are stomping around in. Let’s stop screaming our bible verses and listen for a moment, instead.”
One of my favorite sentences in the film comes when Sister Ann approaches her mentor, Father Quinn, and tries to talk to him about her insights. He furiously responds: “Let me get this straight – the rite of exorcism has been standing for centuries as the perceived word of God… and you have notes?!” She does, and that makes her a therapist, a profiler, a scientist – and that puts her on a direct collision course with the church. That, to me, is where this movie truly earns the “strong female protagonist” label: rather than holding (a male) God’s hand every step of the way, she lets go because she needs both hands to try something new. And that, in turn, allows this movie to do all kinds of things other exorcism movies haven’t done. So the female protagonist is not just a gimmick – she’s woven deeply into the very DNA of the story.
BD: Although the plot centers on demonic possession, it is the mother/daughter relationship that really anchors this story. The idea that unresolved trauma can be passed down generationally until it is finally addressed is almost as unsettling as the supernatural imagery! Why did you feel it was important to make this the film’s focal point?
DS: Most thrillers are based in one way or another on ghosts of the past rearing their heads, devouring their victims until faced and dealt with. I think, again, the reason for this is the necessity for conflict. It gives you a whole backstory full of past conflicts to pull from. And since we are telling a story of an ‘eternal struggle’, it felt even more important to lean into the generational aspect of it all – that there would be whole families that would be in the devil’s crosshairs, generation after generation.
The other reason why I loved this aspect of the story is that I’m always asking myself: “If this weren’t a genre movie – if I took out all scares and horror moments – would this still be compelling?” And then the job is to make it so, and to never lose sight of that. The key to this, of course, are the characters. How do you make the audience care about the characters? It’s so much harder than you’d think, yet it often comes down to just one strong moment. To me, this moment happened when Ann is begging Virginia Madsen’s character to believe her that her mom wasn’t cruel, wasn’t abusive – but possessed. She is a child clinging to her love for her mother so tightly, that she’d rather face the devil himself than accept that her mother didn’t love her. She is so vulnerable that it’s impossible not to feel protective of her throughout the rest of the movie.
BD: In addition to our protagonist being a nun performing an exorcism instead of the conventional priest, what elements are you most excited about that set PREY FOR THE DEVIL apart from other possession stories?
DS: The acting. Oh my God. This ensemble really took it to another level, one that you’re not necessarily used to in horror movies. Jackie Byers as Sister Ann is astonishing – fearless, raw, and a complete revelation who is really getting under your skin. I never want to make a movie without Jackie again. She has an incredible career ahead of her – we’re so lucky we got her before she’ll only be mingling with the Scorseses of the world. Posy Taylor as our possessed girl is drawing endless talent from some source no actor her age should have access to. She might have entered into some demonic pact – but she’ll be huge. Virginia Madsen, Ben Cross – what legends, and what an honor to have them in the movie. Christian Navarro, Colin Salmon, Lisa Palfrey, Nicholas Ralph – there is nothing you could ask of them that they can’t do, they’re that good. To have that level of talent right into the farthest corners of the smallest roles in a genre film is really exciting.
And then you put these performances into sets built by production design legend Jonathan McKinstry (PENNY DREADFUL, THE TERROR), have things scored by composer legend Nathan Barr (HOSTEL, TRUE BLOOD), and ask editing legend Tom Elkins (ANNABELLE, CHILD’S PLAY) to put it all together. With a gallery of horror nobility like this, there’s just a quality that spreads throughout every aspect of a film.
BD: According to real-life Vatican reports, demonic possessions are on the rise. The film is inspired by these actual exorcism cases and the schools established by the church to fight this evil. What is it about demonic activity that continues to fascinate audiences?
DS: Having to defeat an invisible villain without destroying the host body adds a welcome complication to a movie’s core conflict. We can’t just blow off the guy’s head, we have to be more resourceful than that. And the whole ‘evil foe behind the mask of a harmless friend’ is the very essence of a nightmare. Possession also draws from some phenomena everybody is familiar with: loved ones not quite seeming themselves, or not feeling quite right yourself; experiencing bodily phenomena you have no influence over, or thoughts and impulses whose origins are a mystery to us. The idea of losing control is so terrifying to us that it’s a fruitful place to grow a spooky tale out of.
Then there is the idea that good horror movies are metaphors for real-life fears on people’s minds, and possession can be a powerful metaphor for a range of things – from mental illness to decaying health, corruption, terrorism etc. And since you are working in front of a religious backdrop, the groundwork for a big part of your audience has been in the making for decades. It’d be a shame to let that go to waste…