After being a huge fan of Harry Michell’s debut feature Chubby Funny, I was excited to see what he had planned for his second as Writer/Director but while the premise of Say Your Prayers is enticing, what follows is a little messy in terms of style, tone and attachment to the lead characters. While Chubby Funny created a clever balance between genuine laugh-out loud moments and delving into the darkness of your own uncertainties, Say Your Prayers chooses an array of personalities who try too hard to out-weird each other.
Co-written with Jamie Fraser, Say Your Prayers follows Tim (Harry Melling) and Vic (Tom Brooke) as two brothers, who are also Christian radicals. The film also starts with a murder, this isn’t a spoiler because nothing else occurs before this opening moment. Set out on the hills of rural Yorkshire, and more specifically Ilkley, it initially offers a sense of Sightseers due to the connection to the great outdoors and random murders on a classic, British overcast day. But there’s an issue, because Tim and Vic quickly realise, they’ve killed the wrong person, and now need to wait instructions of what they should have done from whoever sent them there.
After a promising opening, Michell’s film continues to wobbly in between various genres and tonal shifts. It’s difficult to work out whether it’s purely a black comedy, or an eventual comment on religion, or satire… it’s never quite clear. Our two leads aren’t exactly the finest minds in the world, and so while there’s a type of Four Lions setup going on, it’s not as focused as that. Although one brother is slightly more likeable than the other, neither have that many redeeming features or reasons to ‘fight for’ in your mind, despite Melling’s Tim being a simpler, kinder soul, you feel like you need more depth to his character to really connect.
Overtime, you’ll learn that the brothers really do care for each other, even if Tom Brooke’s Vic has anger and control issues and is another character who’s difficult to care for. But, again, while the story around it all is simple, it’s all a little too bizarre. For me, the ensemble of characters doesn’t really work together, they’re all vying to be excessively quirky, to the point of slightly annoying rather than amusing, which delays any connection further. These are all actors who are good at their trade but even Anna Maxwell Martin’s DCI Brough is over-played as a dry, sarcastic, Gervais-esque misery but without the charm. In truth, they all feel like characters from the League of Gentlemen who’ve escaped but not really to anywhere, including Derek Jacobi as an evil priest.
Alongside these problems, there’s also unusual sound issues, with what feels like over-dub and situations where characters are talking but each sentence cuts off too perfectly, which disturbs the moment. By this I mean that sentences feel too crisp, and drift in and out between pure silence, which was disappointing. Saying all this, I always try to look for positives and I think people will like it, particularly if they’re not accustomed to the films or shows I’ve mentioned. I also loved the male voice choir appearing randomly in the backs of scenes and as a segue between heightened moments, that worked really well.
Say Your Prayers is a peculiar film, and frustrating because I thought I’d like it more. Its climax also alludes to something wider ‘happening’ and the result of this reveal feels like an idea that should have been central to the entire premise and thus a missed opportunity, which would have made the whole thing a lot more fun. Overall, it’s an undeniably dark comedy-drama, with more than a hint of surrealism, so if you’re into that, it’ll be right up your street.