“Prayer to a Vengeful God” focuses on a Manhattan financial executive and his artist wife. One night, their apartment is invaded by an assailant – the wife is killed and the husband is left in a coma. Four months later, the man emerges from his coma and begins the rehabilitative process. Yet he cannot cope with the loss of his wife and tries to overdose on his prescribed medication. He doesn’t die, but he manages to enter a new level of hell when he discovers his wife was involved in a weird secret life that may have been the cause of the tragedy that befell them.
Director/writer Dan Eberle deserves kudos for taking an experimental approach to the material: he opted to tell the story without any dialogue, relying solely on the cast’s emotive talents and a multi-layered soundtrack featuring an innovative score by Bob Hart and a bold sound design by Scott Smitelli. And for the early stages of the film, it seems as if this experiment is going to pay off brilliantly.
Sadly, the film is tripped up by a less-than-solid storyline that involves some loopy loose threads, most notably the too-convenient inclusion of a bearded derelict known as The Transient, who serves as a Yoda-type figure to teach the bedraggled protagonist fighting skills. Yet Eberle’s biggest mistake was casting himself in the central role as the man whose life has been torn apart. Offering the dullest gaze since the glory days of Victor Mature, Eberle fails to inject any degree of sympathy or intrigue into his character – even when the character is supposedly going through torturous angst, Eberle seems like he is sleepwalking. Since his performance lacks the charisma to keep the film anchored, Eberle winds up losing the viewers’ patience long before the final act shift to abrupt violence.
But even if “Prayer to a Vengeful God” doesn’t really click, it should be praised for taking a gamble. At a time when so many independent films seem like cut-and-paste ripoffs of other work, this production stands out as having the guts to do something very different.