Directed by Yuichi Sato, Pray is a horror thriller starring Tetsuji Tamayama and Asami Mizukawa as two down on their luck hoodlums who in desperation decide to kidnap a little girl in order to get a ransom from her rich parents. However, when they approach the parents with their demands, they get told that the girl they have just drugged and dragged with them has been dead for a year.
At the outset I thought the premise for Pray sounded quite interesting and a bit of a twist on an ordinary kidnapping story, especially a ghostly one, might just be right down my alley. Oh, how wrong I was.
I spent the first twenty minutes or so trying to figure out what kind of film I was watching. After all, such premise could have potential for numerous different approaches; it could be a dark comedy, a total gore fest or maybe a fantastically grim thriller along the lines of Lady vengeance (2005) or The Wailing (2016). That’s what I was hoping anyway. Unfortunately, Pray turns out to be none of those things, and I am actually still not quite sure how to describe it. It’s not scary enough to be a horror, has little to no humour in it and definitely doesn’t have enough character development for a drama or even a thriller.
To be perfectly fair, with the running time of only 1 hour 17 minutes, you can’t really expect much. That’s not to say that you can’t make a good film in that time frame, you most definitely can, but it needs to be kept relatively simple, and this is where Pray fails in a massive way. Instead of a simple scary movie about a kidnapping gone horribly wrong, Pray is packed full of overly complicated plot twits that just do not, and cannot, work in such a short film. There is double-crossing, childhood trauma, dead siblings and a ghost that might not be a ghost. These little curveballs are obviously an attempt to create more depth to the story and link everything in together, but regrettably they are introduced to the plot way too late and there is just simply not enough time or plot development for them to work.
Pray also has a quite a substantial pacing issue. Best part of the film is used up by the two main characters just aimlessly wandering around the same building. Now again, film set on a tight location like that can be perfectly successful, especially in the horror genre, but in this case the repetition of the same rooms and corridors just gets incredibly tiresome. For the first forty-five minutes or so pretty much consists of Mitsuru (Tamayama) and Maki (Mizukawa) losing their little kidnap victim and Mitsuru finding her again. Meanwhile a haunted toilet keeps flushing itself, some objects move on their own and eerie piano music keeps playing in the background even though there is no piano. The same rooms, same scares and same situations keep repeating themselves until couple of new characters enter (Mitsuru’s friends) and the whole plot just seems to go on fast forward. Although this is a welcome change of pace and the film finally gets going somewhat, it’s too little too late and not enough to save the story.
The kindest way I can think of to describe Pray is unmemorable. I can honestly say that I watched it and then almost immediately forgot that I did so. Nothing about it stuck to my head. Not the story, the actors, cinematography or the so-called horror scenes. It’s a frustrating film to watch and not just because the monotonous repetition of it all, but because in a different setting the story could have worked. The plot twists themselves are not half bad, just poorly executed. With little bit more time and care and slight shift of focus, Pray could have been a reasonably decent thriller or a wonderfully gory ghost story. As it stands it is neither and I would only use it as a cure for insomnia.