I’m not very familiar with the European indie-horror scene. Infamous Horror has given me a chance to remedy that with films like “Let the Wrong One In” (https://www.infamoushorrors.com/2022/04/03/let-the-wrong-one-in-review/), and more recently, MeloMedia Films’ psychological horror-thriller, “As a Prelude to Fear” (https://www.melomediafilms.com/as_a_prelude_to_fear.html).
The synopsis: When a young cellist Eve Taylor gets kidnapped and imprisoned in a dungeon-like basement, Police Detective Barnbrooke believes it’s the work of the notorious psychopath the media has named “The Pied Piper.” But having failed to stop him in over fourteen years, and with three other girls missing – presumed dead – Barnbrooke knows all too well that if he can’t pin down his only suspect this time, Eve will find the same fate as the other Pied Piper victims. Knowing the identity of The Pied Piper is one thing, but proving it in time is a different deadlier story.
“As a Prelude to Fear” documents the frustration felt by all parties during an ongoing abduction case. We get an in-depth look at the experiences of a captive, the captive’s significant other, and the authorities who are on the case. My initial reaction to the film was that I wanted to know more about The Pied Piper – what were his motives for killing? (Or does he need one?) Looking back at “The Strangers” (2008), when the killers are asked the classic “Why are you doing this?” they respond with, “Because you were home.” Maybe there’s no rhyme or reason why some people kill, but in a movie about a serial killer who’s been at large for fourteen years, I wanted to know more about his motivation and personal history. Did he have a bad childhood or problems with his mother, and did this somehow evolve into abducting women?
That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed “As a Prelude to Fear.” The focus is really on the captive Eve, played by Lara Lemon (War of the Worlds: The Attack). Lemon portrays Eve as strong, empathetic, and believable, determined to escape her imprisonment. I think her one flaw was trusting the abandoned-looking building she was meeting her new cello instructor at as safe and legit. I think she was supposed to meet her instructor at a cafe, but she gets a call, and he wants her to meet him at another property, more private – a major horror movie red flag. I would’ve gotten out of Dodge.
The New Captive
The Pied Piper wastes no time abducting Eve, which surprised me – there’s no faux-happy cello instructor who pretends to get into Eve’s good graces. We have a predator who doesn’t hide what he is from the start (except his identity). I was initially concerned the movie would go more in the direction of being a torture flick, and I’m glad that wasn’t the case. There are maybe two scenes of extreme violence, but the film doesn’t glorify or celebrate it: you’re only shown what’s necessary. Instead, it highlights how the everyday person could end up in Eve’s shoes and it depicts what a captive might go through emotionally and psychologically. Eve was in the middle of doing a very ordinary thing – meeting a new teacher for an interview/audition. She couldn’t have predicted waking up in a dingy basement.
There are those typical “hostage movie” moments where Eve tells The Piper to “Let me go! Let me out of here!” That has never worked in movies (at least I don’t think so), but all movie captives do it. I think maybe it’s easier to be angry and to be in denial at first that this horrible thing is actually happening to you, so “Let me go!” is really all you can say. Eve also questions, “Why me? Why not any other girl, why did it have to be me?” I also wanted to know why her. I think the answer might be in the connection between the girls who were kidnapped by The Piper – if I recall, they’ve all had the same cello instructor, Giles Corcoran – we’ll get to him later. Maybe there isn’t a clear reason Eve was chosen, or why anyone gets “chosen.” Sometimes there is, and sometimes there isn’t. And while Eve initially reacts by crying, shouting, and denying her circumstances, she eventually becomes a heroine who fights back and tries to help the other two girls who are also in the basement.
Eve’s resolve and can-do attitude suggests that she won’t conform to The Piper’s requests. And conform she does not. She tries to get Alex, one of her fellow captives, on board with escaping, but Alex refuses. The opposite of Eve, Alex is a captive who’s accepted her fate; she’s sort of given up. She never seems sad by it though – her situation simply “is.” The OMG moment from the film’s official trailer is when Eve asks Alex, “How many days have you been here?” and Alex replies, “Days? I’ve been here for fourteen years.” With this in mind, and with her attitude towards her captor (she marvels at The Piper’s “beautiful” music), one can gather she might have Stockholm Syndrome.
Alex, I think, helps to ease Eve’s situation and she provides a sort of companionship. Her advice isn’t great for someone trying to escape – but it is for someone trying to stay alive. “You shouldn’t resist him,” don’t fight back, do what he says, etc. “Once you conform, it’s not that bad.” Alex also points out that if The Piper disappeared one day and straight-up vanished, they’d be trapped down there without food and water – they’d starve. While Alex makes a good point, I’m glad Eve seems to take her warnings with a grain of salt. Eve is still new and determined to escape. She’s not going down without a fight.
On the Outside
While “As a Prelude to Fear” mainly focuses on the trials and challenges of the captives, the film also focuses on the helplessness felt by those on the outside. Eve’s boyfriend Jamie (Jamie Langlands, Dragonflies Only Live for 24 Hours) drops her off to meet her new instructor, and right away we can tell he’s uneasy. He’s dropping her off in the middle of nowhere in the vast English countryside. His uneasiness grows when he receives a call from her with silence on the other end. This starts Jamie’s quest to seek answers through any means necessary. Jamie’s often furious because he feels the police aren’t doing enough to find Eve. He takes matters into his own hands and confronts Giles Corcoran, the only lead the police have on The Piper, though there’s no evidence. I was surprised that Jamie didn’t bring a weapon with him. Also, if I was going up against someone who I thought was a serial killer who’s been doing this for fourteen years, I’d bring backup. I sympathize with Jamie’s character though because he was tired of waiting for answers while Eve was God knows where. He didn’t want to sit at home while receiving the same answer every day: “We’re doing everything we can. This is our top priority.”
Boyfriend aside, it’s worth mentioning the investigation that takes place to find Eve. Actor Francis Magee (Game of Thrones, Star Wars: Rogue One) plays Chief Detective Barnbrooke. His character’s been hunting for The Piper for a good part of his career, and with very little luck. Barnbrooke has an ongoing history and rivalry with cello instructor Giles Corcoran – he’s adamant that Corcoran is The Piper, and he’s bitter because he’s never been able to get concrete evidence on the guy. Corcoran is very convincing as The Piper. He’s super unlikable and the viewer has him pinned down as a real asshole. Corcoran, like The Piper, becomes furious when a cello student misses a note or messes up. Corcoran, like The Piper, has a scene where he violently stabs a bunch of fruit. There are lots of parallels and it’s easy to see why Barnbrooke believes it’s Corcoran. I’m not saying it’s him and I’m not saying it isn’t – you’ll have to watch for yourself!
“As a Prelude to Fear” ends with a statement about the ongoing epidemic of abduction, abuse, and trafficking. I think one of the main reasons the film was made is to draw awareness to that, and it’s emphasized through Eve’s and Alex’s scenes. The film brings to light that abduction could happen to anyone, and those we least expect (“He would never do that!”) often end up being the monster. Eve’s questioning of “Why me? Why did he choose me?” also bring this to light, that sometimes you’re just “chosen” for something bad and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s an injustice.
“As a Prelude to Fear” is directed, co-written, and co-produced by Steph Du Melo (13 Strawberry Fields, CAM, The Last Breath); cowritten by Roger Wyatt; and co-produced by Anthony Meadley. The main cast includes Francis Magee (Game of Thrones, Star Wars: Rogue One) as Chief Detective Barnbrooke; Lara Lemon (War of the Worlds: The Attack) as Eve; Lucy Drive (Ben Hur) as Detective Dobson; and Jamie Langlands (Dragonflies Only Live for 24 Hours) as Jamie. The film raises lots of questions and gives us a glimpse into a dark situation experienced by many every day.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Bret Laurie is an editor, writer, and longtime horror fan in Massachusetts. He contributes film reviews regularly and supports independent horror films through social media. His flash-fiction tale “The Shell” is featured in the DarkLit Press anthology “Beach Bodies.”