A Sam Raimi He can be blamed for many things as a horror producer, sometimes his films hit the spot, like ‘Underwater Hell’ (Crawl, 2019), and sometimes not, like ‘The Curse’ (The Grudge, 2020), but he always goes for free, proposing self-contained stories that can function unfashionably, with a dedication to militant terror, and seamless, and now he does it again with ‘Pray for us’ (The Unholy, 2020).
This time he does have an eye on the religious horror cinema that has been setting the pace in Hollywood in recent years, with all the productions of the Warren and James Wan universe, although he already did it before in the vindicable ‘The Possession’ (2012 ), but gives it a little more adult touch, with a more patient development of its characters and trying to explore the implications of his diabolical miracle approach that adapt the best seller ‘Shrine **’ (1983) by James Herbert.
Herbert, one of the highest-rated writers of the great explosion of the horror pocketbook after the success of Stephen King, had already been adapted a few times, with good fortune on all of them. ‘The survivor‘(The Survivor, 1981) is a highly vindicable Australian rarity,’Radioactive beasts‘(Deadly Eyes, 1982) a good killer rat movie and’Spellbound‘(The Haunted, 1995) an outstanding ghost story that precedes the gothic horror of’ The Curse of Bly Manor ‘(The Haunting of Bly Manor, 2020).
False prophets and fake news
‘Pray for us‘is about a young woman with a hearing impairment who, after a supposed vision of the Virgin Mary, inexplicably begins to be able to hear, speak and heal the sick. As word spreads, a journalist visits the small New England town to investigate and terrifying events and strange deaths begin to happen, so the priests begin to question whether these phenomena are divine work or have something much more sinister behind them, with starts it a festival of burning crosses, statues of the virgin crying blood and acting as ‘The Nun’ from the Warren universe.
Maybe the series’Supernatural‘(2005-2020) had evidence of Herbert’s novel, but already in his episode’ Faith ‘a very similar story was followed, although this debut by Evan Spiliotopoulos revolves around the phenomenon of Marian apparitions and sanctuaries from miraculous visions such as Fátima, Lourdes or El Palmar, to introduce an archetypal supernatural horror story in which the ideas of truth and faith weigh more than scary scenes, somewhat mechanical and without much will to go beyond the silly and volume scare.
But in return there is a more relaxed story and with a certain desire to tell something, even if it is almost a vehicle for actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, playing here as an unscrupulous journalist faced with the supernatural with nuances of Miguel Ferrer de ‘The Night Flyer‘(1997) or Bradley Cooper in’The wagon of death‘(Midnight Meat Train, 2008), but exploring the angle of an unscrupulous man’s redemption that reflects today’s information society.
And it is that ‘Pray for us‘builds its history around sacred images and Catholic icons, which in principle can remind’Stigmata‘(1999) or’ The exorcism of Emily Rose ‘(2005), for their look at the miraculous events around a young woman, but they are only the instruments on which the main threat feeds its power, adulterated miraculous manifestations as an irreverent metaphor for deception as a way to power and the publicity of politics and institutions.
Classic horror without complications
The biblical quote from Matthew 7: 15-20 Beware of false prophets. They come to you disguised as sheep, but inside they are ferocious wolves. You will know them by their fruits”Is applied to the idea of truth, virals, influencers, the media in the era of twitter and, ultimately, to fake news as a way to gain power, taking your idea to religion, how is it feed back with the state in the US and of course as a warning against a new case of populism ** in the ways of Steve Bannon.
A pity that the film does not dare to go further, and in the end leaves a studio standard product mouthfeel with its classic curse horror scheme without too many surprises, in tune with ‘In the dark’ (Darkness Falls, 2003), with a fairly similar appearance, but at least with nods to classic horror like that prologue ‘The mask of the demon‘(1960) and dark sins of rural parish as the town of’The fog‘(The Fog, 1980), or the terror of a priest in the confessional of’The exorcist III’ (The Exorcist III, 1990).
‘Pray for us’ could be better with some simple adjustments and more pampering in the terror, and it leaves a trace of lost opportunity, but it is appreciated that it seeks some plot coherence, there is a solid script and worries about details such as its actors, with a suitably repulsive Cary Elwes, and a sublime William Sadler. Multiroom horror that does not try to advance in the genre and, although it is satisfied with little, it offers certain guarantees, haunting atmosphere and a good collection of catholic effigies with creepy gothic echoes.