Prey For The Devil is an intense new horror movie from Lionsgate that follows the fictional story of the first nun to be sanctioned for exorcism studies by the Catholic church. The film stars Jacqueline Byers as Sister Ann, a woman who found the church after being tormented by a demon-possessed mother as a child. Former 13 Reasons Why actor Christian Navarro co-stars, playing Father Dante, a priest who seeks understanding about demonic possession for more than just spiritual reasons. These descriptions are admittedly reductive to the true nature of the plot and characters, but we dare not say too much for fear of spoiling.
Recently, PopCulture.com had a chance to speak with Byers and Navarro about the film, which Byers feels allowed her to push "boundaries." Speaking about the mental and emotional taxation of her role, Byers confessed, "It felt like I ran 10 marathons, but with my heart. It was exhausting but worth it. I think I'm just so fascinated by the human psyche that it's like... I always say, as an actor, it's like in my own life, I can live within a certain realm as an actor. You get to push those boundaries and live in all of these other facets and feel things that you wouldn't necessarily feel or turn up volumes on things and I'm just... it's what drives me to do what I do and this film is just such an incredible opportunity to, you know, dive into all of that."
Prey for the Devil is directed by Daniel Stamm, whose 2010 film The Last Exorcism is much of a cult classic in many circles of horror fandom. Sharing how Stamm helped the cast understand the real world of spiritual exorcisms, Navarro said, "Daniel is a great director and he was always very receptive to what we had to say and thoughts we had. But also he was very open with the resources he would give us, right. So there were articles and things that he would send our way in reference points that he would touch, that we would go back and look at."
Navarro continued, "I grew up going to Catholic school my whole life and, and Jesuit high school for a couple of years. So the world is familiar to me as an adult... I think that I think all of the prep you do at home kind of goes away when you show up on set, you know, you do all the research, you read about what you can read about, you watch what you can watch and then you show up and you let the other actors happen to you, luckily we had a great cast to sort of play ball back and forth with a film like this."
When asked about the physical demands of the film, Byers explained that exorcism horror, in most forms, definitely requires a lot of exertion. "There are some scenes where it's so fun because there's such an idea of that, it's like there's the victim, there's the person and then the demon and they're battling each other inside the body," she said. "During demonic possessions, playing with the choreography of it and feeling like something's battling you, like pulling your body in one direction and like other person working in a different way, it was really, like, it was just fun. It was a fun thing to work with that idea as an actor, you know, like you're constantly working with your imagination. I just think that that idea gave us so much to work with in general."
Byers also explained that she learned a lot about what the human mind and body are capable of while working on Prey for the Devil. "I think body horror is so funny because... you can be 125 pounds being, that's all you are at the end of the day, but it's like everything that you are," she said. "You can literally, this is horrific, but you can bite your finger off and it's the same as biting off a carrot. Did you know that? Your body is so... you could die in an instant. It's like, it's crazy to me that I think just body horror, in general, is just so terrifying. You see the contortionist and you're like, 'Are you crazy?!'"
Finally, we asked Byers and Navarro about their experiences working with iconic actor Ben Cross, who, sadly, passed away just days after completing filming on Prey for the Devil, playing Cardinal Matthews. "I think we're lucky to work with a consummate professional," Navarro said. "He's a legend, certainly a legend in England and he brought a gravitas to the film that was special, and to have worked with him right before he passed, I consider it a privilege. We had a couple of scenes together and I learned and I think that's the real measure of an actor. They make everyone around them better and I learned from watching him. So I was grateful for the experience."
Byers solemnly added, "He's one of the greats, there's like he's one of the best performances of all time." She then shared how Cross, who was battling cancer at the time, had been coming to set and working as if he was perfectly well, so she had no idea he was as ill as he was. "What was so inspiring to me was that he died 10 days after we shot. So when he came in, his wardrobe didn't fit him anymore because he had lost so much weight. I had no idea he was sick," she revealed. "Like I knew... he looked older, Do you know what I mean? But the way that he held himself, and his commitment to acting until the end of his life is something that I will admire. It was truly one of the greatest privileges I've had in my life to see someone that committed to his craft." Prey for the Devil is now playing in theaters. Click here to find showtimes near you.