A24 have tackled all calibre of film... all apart from the hyper-masculine prison film - until now. Their latest venture heads into exactly that territory. A Prayer Before Dawn screened at Glasgow Film Festival, and here’s my verdict.
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Based on the bestselling memoir by Billy Moore (embodied here by the young Joe Cole), A Prayer Before Dawn tells the story of Moore’s time in Thai prison. He’s the pig being sent to slaughter; the only British man in the prison, he is seen as the outsider and the prey. Director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s film is quite the freewheeling affair, following this young man’s experience in such a nightmarish hell. Sauvaire doesn’t shy away from depicting the inhumanity of Thai prison life and it makes for perhaps the most disturbing, most uncomfortable film I have ever seen.
A Prayer Before Dawn eschews the tropes of both the boxing genre and the prison film, as well as the conventions of cinema in general. From intense rape scenes to people being battered and hung, to long takes of people getting Oriental tattoos chipped into their skin or the long scenes of Moore hearing people’s screams as they are exposed to more of the torture or abuse this life offers them, this film is hauntingly raw and realistic – it holds you in its moments for longer than necessary at times. Yet, it’s a compelling watch. This film allows us to peer into one of the most harrowing prison experiences known to man in all of its vicious nature. It’s an esoteric affair, one many will refuse, but one that is hard to look away from.
It’s not for the squeamish, detailed and brutal in what its depicting. However, despite all of its punishing brutality, the film lacks much else. The story is devoid of much characterisation and any cohesive story to really tie it together. Which can work for a documentary or for a shorter film. But this is 2 hours. And as interesting a watch as it is for the first half, the second half begins to slog because of the lack of pathos failing to add any weight or emotional value to the story. Where does this leave A Prayer Before Dawn then? It’s not an easy swallow – a film that even I found myself spinning at because of its intensity. However, it demands to be seen for its sheer audacity and for the events that it brings to light – and, especially, how it brings them to fruition. But it’s not a film that really boasts much else other than intensity.
A Prayer Before Dawn is a stomach-churning, wince-inducing look at the harrowing Thai prison life – unforgiving and brutal in its esoteric nature. But it lacks much else to keep it a strong, investing film throughout.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.