Review: ‘Prey’

Hot Docs 2019

3 mins read

(Canada, 85 min)
Dir. Matt Gallagher
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)

The subject of Prey is a civil lawsuit against the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, which took place last year, over their part in concealing and abetting William Hodgson “Hod” Marshall, a Catholic priest, high school teacher and serial sexual abuser, who died in 2014 at the age of 92. What distinguished the case was that the defendant was seeking punitive damages, for the first time in Canada, from a Church institution. The crux of the matter was that Marshall’s crimes had been reported a half-dozen times over the years, yet he was allowed to continue working, and abusing students.

Attempts to sell the profoundly sad story of Prey as a real-life legal thriller feel misguided which doesn’t stop director Matt Gallagher from trying. From the foreboding musical score, to long zoom shots down dark corridors and the dramatically posed interviews against black backgrounds, the film often feels forced. One scene with lawyer Rob Talach (dubbed “the priest hunter”) as he moves in heroic Right Stuff slo-mo while he heads to court feels entirely at odds with the lawyer’s unpolished manner: (“Look. We got four years of abuse over his teen-age years. We’ve got fondling. We’ve got lost his virginity. He was sodomized at least once.”)

In spite of its overbearing attempts at style, Prey shines a light on some memorable characters and offers insights into institutional denial. At its dramatic core is complainant Rob McLeod, a 68-year-old with a military bearing. He is a dignified, thoughtful man and it’s obvious why he was a powerful witness. We also see the pain of other former abuse victims, include Patrick McMahon, who pickets his local church to protest the cover-up. (There’s an awkward, apparently staged scene, which shows a priest discussing the protest from the pulpit and then, after mass, talking with McMahon on the street, followed by the camera crew.)

Most vivid here is an archival testimony of the perpetrator, the late Hodgson Marshall, on the witness stand in 2012, calmly acknowledging his long history of abusing boys, with the bizarre explanation that such things weren’t taken so seriously back then. Almost as troubling are the interviews with Father David Katulski, a media spokesman for the Basilian Fathers, who describes his friend, Hodson Marshall, as a good man suffering from pedophilia, a rationalization that manages to compound bad science with bad faith.

Prey screens:
-Thurs, May 2 at 1:30 PM TIFF Lightbox

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!

Liam Lacey is a freelance writer for and POV, Canada’s premiere magazine about documentaries and independent films.

Previously, he was a film critic for The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1995 to 2015. He has also contributed to such publications as Variety, Cinema Scope, Screen, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as broadcast outlets CBC and National Public Radio.

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