Prayer to a Vengeful God (2010) – By Josh Samford

Dan Eberle is one of the most interesting filmmakers I have come across that currently works in the realm of no-budget independent cinema. I was sent his previous film The Local for review here on Rogue Cinema some time back and I was thoroughly impressed with it. A small story about redemption that packed highly polished visuals with a very sick sense of decay that encompassed the entire project. The feature, like the one we’ll be discussing today, starred Eberle who is actually a strong actor as well as director. These are two concepts that don’t always work well with one another, but Eberle has a vision and he does what it takes to bring that across for his audience. He is a low budget auteur of sorts, with a focus on life as it hits the skids. Prayer to a Vengeful God sort of solidified this for me. Although it is not as conventionally entertaining as The Local, it is even more ambitious. How is that, you ask? Prayer to a Vengeful God is almost entirely a silent film.

John Krause (Dan Eberle) is your average white collar type. Doing well for himself, sophisticated and set within his ways. His life takes a horrible change however when his apartment is broken into and he is shot in the back, while his wife is murdered. Krause awakens in the hospital and has to re-learn everything within his life. All of this while he is haunted by the death of his beautiful and caring wife. When John is released, he is given prescription medication in order to deal with his pain and he soon finds out that if he takes the medication to excess, he can actually imagine his deceased wife standing there with him. As John discovers this new world of drug addiction and vagrancy, he finds a group of thugs who may have been involved in the death of his wife. With this information, and the help of a homeless man who teaches him to fight, John sets out on a path towards vengeance.

Following in the footsteps of Eberle’s previous film The Local, Prayer to a Vengeful God continues a fascination with the downtrodden and the weak in our society. Although the photography is stunning at times and beautiful at every moment, it is caked with the grime and feel of urban life. The grit simply pulsates through nearly every frame of film, only giving us a break when we see the character John and his previous life before the death of his wife. The pristine and proper look of his apartment gives a stark contrast to the urban decay that lives just outside of his doorstep. As this character sinks into this horrifying new reality, so do we become accustomed to it.

The fact that this is all but a silent film is something that is going to split audiences right down the center. Despite my having some reservations about the concept, which I will get to shortly, I can’t help but admire the sheer guts and artistic integrity that it takes to do such a thing. It is the equivalent of a cinematic dare in this day and age. Many art house features are minimalist in their nature and feature very little in the way of dialogue. South Korean filmmaker Kim-Ki Duk comes to mind when I think of such filmmakers. Eberle however looks to take the concept to its notable climax, by removing all dialogue and instead focusing on cinema in its truest form which is the visual. It is what separates this art form from all others and Eberle takes the challenge to present his story simply in the realm of the visual. Does it pay off? That is a difficult answer, but I will say that for the most part I think Eberle succeeds in his goals and crafts a very engaging piece of experimental cinema.

Making this as an experimental silent film was certainly a brave choice, but at the same time it does limit itself in many ways. The audience is obvious a key factor. Although I do know several people I plan to recommend the movie to, there are some others who could possibly lose interest along the way and may not even invest their time due to how involved one has to be while watching. This isn’t like your traditional silent film from the pre-talkie era, this has no title card to fill us in on the unspoken emotional moments that come about. It makes the film slightly difficult to parse out in your head as a viewer, as characters float into the picture and then back out. You have to consistently remind yourself who is who, without the benefit of hearing their voice in order to differentiate themselves further. These are pet peeves more than anything, as I did enjoy the picture quite a bit and am giving it a solid recommendation, but with that recommendation comes a warning.

There’s no doubt about it, this one won’t be for everyone. However, it does help to cement Dan Eberle in my mind as one of the most talented filmmakers you have probably never heard of. It is a dark and gritty tale of vengeance, but it leans more towards the art house side of things than it is a work of genre cinema. I absolutely recommend it and I can’t wait to see more from Eberle as he continues to grow and to thrive as an artist. You can read more about the film at the official website: http://insurgentpictures.com/vengeful