Reals was kind enough to share an essay he wrote for Mitch Smith Media.
What’s In A Name?
Let Us Prey and the Importance of Titles
Hello dear friends and readers!
After discussing limited-location scripts with a screenwriting colleague of mine, I found myself in an unusual situation: as my friend and I were listing some of our favorite films in the limited-location/limited-actor space, he mentioned the title Let Us Prey (O’Malley, 2015) that I had never seen before, though I knew of the project itself. And, after hearing his strong recommendation, I began to wonder: What put me off of this film? Why had I stayed away for so long?
For, you see, I consider myself a big horror fan and pride myself on my cinematic knowledge and catalogue of features that I have seen, discussed, and can reference at a moment’s notice. Yet, this one had eluded me (or I had eluded it, more accurately) which set me on a journey to figure out just why I had skipped this particular offering upon its initial release.
After some research and consideration, I came to the conclusion that two things in particular put me off of the film: the promotional material for Let Us Prey, and the title.
Let us first discuss the promotional material, as that is usually the first thing that catches the eye of a prospective viewer and entices them to learn more about the film. The main US promotional poster (also used on the DVD / Blu-ray cover) is below:
Those of you who have not seen the film and know nothing about the plot, what do you think of when you see that image?
Personally, I thought of cannibalism and/or some cult or secret society of flesh-eaters. The woman hanging above the man in the poster invokes comparisons to the famous Texas Chainsaw Massacre human-impaled-on-a-meathook moment (that has been lovingly replicated time-and-again) and the dark figure underneath her could symbolize the nefarious leader or patriarchal figure who commands a group or family of cannibals.
For this reason, primarily, I chose to stay away from the film. You see, though I am a huge fan of the Saw film series, and to this day contend that Saw I, Saw II, and Saw III combined make up the best trilogy of horror films to date, I often find that features dealing with cannibalism more often than not veer towards “gross-out gore”. And, by gross-out-gore I am talking about scenes, imagery, and/or moments meant only to elicit a cringe or reaction from the audience, though they serve no greater narrative function.
Not to say that the aforementioned image is a bad poster or promotional piece; in fact, I think it is a rather striking and evocative image… for a much different film.
(Another colleague of mine suggested the image would be effective for a potential shoe advertisement – as the shoes are prominently displayed and feature heavily into the promotional image, though more on that in a moment!)
In reality, though, Let Us Prey is about a mysterious figure held in a remote police station, who takes over the minds and souls of everyone inside (IMDb, 6 Apr. 2015)
Now, looking at the poster with this new context in mind, do you see it? Does that poster scream Satan in a police station?
It does not, for multiple reasons:
First, the legs dangling from the rafters in the image are misleading. This scene is taken from a brief shot (only a second or two of screentime) about halfway through the film when two officers discover a bloody house full of horrors. In no way does this suggest the plot or serve any narrative function for any of the characters contained within the film. Actually, our Satan character, played wonderfully by Liam Cunningham, is never even in the same location as the woman in the poster, nor does he cause her character’s death in the film.
Should the marketing team have wanted to use this image or a similar image, a better option might have been to include a dead police officer wearing standard police footwear and a uniform. From my quick research, I found that, “The gardaí (state police force of the Irish Republic – where Let Us Prey was filmed and is presumably set) require two types of footwear – a lightweight operational safety boot and a lightweight operational safety shoe.” (Murray, 2019)
Those of you who have seen the film may argue that it was a small, local police station that is under siege and thus they would not be required to wear the same footwear as their state police counterparts. While that is very true, I could not find a standard requirement for local Irish police uniforms, nor their footwear requirements.
Now, to my recollection, we are not given a specific location where the story takes place, so I must also include the footwear of Scotland’s police officers, as Scotland is also listed as a filming location for Let Us Prey (IMDb, 6 Apr. 2015). The Standard Operating Procedure Manual for Scottish Police Officers states, “Footwear will be black and shall be clean / polished at the start of each tour of duty.” (Scotland Police, 2017)
As I am well aware, the marketing teams and the creative teams behind the film are often, if not always, two separate entities, so I will not hold this against the filmmakers. It is just a thought that they might have been better served by a more accurate poster. Though the promotional material may not fall at the feet (pun intended) of the filmmaking team, what I can comment on in relation to the creative team behind this film is the choice of the title: Let Us Prey.
This title gives no indication that the film is about a small police station beset by all manner of horrors one night when they arrest a mysterious stranger who may or may not have supernatural abilities.
In addition, and sticking with the cannibal theme, Let Us Prey reminded me of something that some families do before having their dinner: pray. Pair this with the handwritten, shaky lettering of the words Let Us Prey, which is reminiscent of a child’s handwriting, and you have a strong hint at family connections and/or themes in the story. So this title, in my mind, brought up immediate comparisons to films about families of cannibals, such as We Are What We Are, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, etc.
A better title for the film may have been Unholy Assault on Precinct 13, or even something like Assault on Precinct 13 – But With the Devil This Time, or perhaps, Assault on Precinct 13 – featuring: Satan.
In all seriousness, a title evoking the themes, hinting at the plot, and drawing the potential viewer in would have been much preferred and more effective. Something like Satan’s Sanctum, Lucifer’s Lockup, or even Prisoner From Hell might have been a stronger and more accurate depiction of the film.
(Not to say those are the best titles, as they are all off the top of my head while writing this essay)
Now, why did I bring this up? Is it because I have too much time on my hands? Perhaps, but I would like to think of this as a teachable moment for screenwriters everywhere. Finding a title that is snappy, attention-catching, and accurate for the work that you are creating is vitally important when writing your screenplay and the power of a good title should not be underestimated.
This is not an easy task by any means, but it is certainly not a facet of writing that should be ignored. Remember, you never get a second chance at a first impression and your title, for better or worse, is the first impression a reader is going to have of your script.
Consider this when writing your next blockbuster or indie darling, because you want crowds to be drawn to your film, not pushed out into the cold, or driven to another feature just because they cannot pronounce, understand, or connect with your title.
There are several films that I could have chosen to speak about in regards to the title being misleading or inaccurate to the finished product. One such recent example that comes to mind is Birds of Prey (and the fantabulous emancipation of One Harley Quinn) which, interestingly enough, has actually been officially renamed Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey as of this writing.
No, I chose Let Us Prey for several specific reasons:
- It is a very strong film and the criticism is not of the story, acting, or the direction, but of the title of the piece.
- It is an older film (relatively) and so any criticism of the work will not change or do any damage to the filmmakers’ reputation, or their potential revenue stream from the film.
- You actually can find the film for free (with ads) on IMDB TV – https://www.imdb.com/tv/ and I recommend giving it a watch!
- Having done a bit of research on a few of the people involved in this project, many of whom are still currently working in the industry, I believe (and hope) that they would support this essay, as it was not written with the intention of cashing in on criticism, but of teaching and hoping to help writers around the world improve their own work.
As I stated above, Let Us Prey is a fine film and one worth watching if you have the chance. However, I do think that (as with all art) there is an opportunity to look at the work through a critical lense and learn from this as we continue to create screenplays and films of our own.
These are just my thoughts, and are certainly open to discussion and debate. If you disagree, please let me know, as that is how we learn from each other and how we can grow as artists and as human beings. All I would ask is that you be respectful to yourselves and to one another and please, if you have a moment, check out MitchSmithMedia on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as we are offering lots of fantastic content and many opportunities for filmmakers and artists around the world.
Finally, as always, stay safe, stay healthy, and happy writing!
Let Us Prey. (2015, April 6). Retrieved April 20, 2020, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3148348/
Murray, S. (2019, March). €2.5 million contract out for the manufacture and supply of shoes for An Garda Síochána. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from http://www.thejournal.ie/contract-garda-shoes-4538733-Mar2019/
O’Malley, Brian, director. Let Us Prey. Creative Scotland, Fantastic Films, Greenhouse Media Investment, 2015
“Standard Operating Procedure.” Scotland Police, 27 July 2017, www.scotland.police.uk/assets/pdf/151934/184779/uniform-appearance-standards-sop