Written and directed by Steph Du Melo and co-written by Jacob Coen and Roger Wyatt (who also stars), when Eve gets kidnapped and imprisoned in a dungeon-like basement, the police believe it is the work of the notorious Pied Piper. Starring: Francis Magee, Lara Lemon, Lucy Drive, Melissa Hollett, Jamie Langlands and Tom Clear.
As a Prelude to Fear is one of those films where what you get out of it may depend on your expectations going in. If you’re anticipating a horror, you may be disappointed but if your expectation is more in the realm of thriller and drama, then you have a better chance of enjoying yourself. However, that is one of the stylistic problems the film faces, while you can clearly interpret the leaning towards a darker horror type edge, it can’t get there. Trying to start out with a dose of fear and violence but it’s unfortunately undermined by some of the filmmakers’ choices, particularly the score. It falls on a more orchestral or classic tone, which creates a slightly ominous or dramatic atmosphere, rather than one of danger and death. It’s an issue which continues throughout, it struggles to build the right air to capitalise on the story it’s telling.
Being based in the arena of serial killers it also needs a big injection of suspense or tension to drive things forward, which is missing here. Jumping straight in without really giving its key characters of Eve (Lemon) and Jamie (Langlands) a tangible introduction, leaves you without someone to root for, an element needed to help build that suspense. The result of which means that the stakes feel too low, there’s a danger there but it’s not enough to carry it through. It’s surprisingly dialogue heavy, but it comes across fairly stiff and cliched. It plays things very safe, it doesn’t overtly lean into any one element, the violence is fairly minimal, it’s not particularly dark or sinister, and the mystery side of things is run of the mill. There’s also some strange choices in the attitudes of the other women being held hostage, which feels out of touch.
As a whole the style hits more of a police procedural television series vibe, the progression and plot points are quite similar. Directorially, it doesn’t make enough of its scenes, it’s repeatedly very still and simple, giving almost entire focus to the dialogue, missing an opportunity to build the atmosphere or tension which are missing. It’s another edge that feeds into the disjointed feel between what it’s attempting to build and the actual result. There’s also a lack of attention to detail with the sets and decoration, mismatched items and some that don’t fit at all; not in the sense of being restricted by budget concerns but specific choices that don’t quite add to the mix.
As a Prelude to Fear plays with some staples of thriller cinema but can’t create the tension or suspense needed to pull off its story. There was potential in building a horror side but sadly it doesn’t go through with it, creating instead a somewhat predictable tale with a flat atmosphere. It sadly just doesn’t capitalise on the underlying notes of the story, making its villain more sinister or building the mystery and chase more deeply to really pull the audience in. Then deciding to end by framing the film as if it’s making a political statement on missing persons leaves things on an odd note, especially given that there was no indication of it before then.