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A Prayer Before Dawn review - 3 years inside one of the most notorious Thai prisons


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Verdict: An incredibly painful true story that grabs our attention at every second.

This could be just another film involving violence, drug abuse and life behind bars. But it stands out for one simple reason: the rawness with which it portrays suffering. After all, this is a true story that undoubtedly touches every audience member.

Billy Moore, an English boxer, was convicted for drug charges and spent 3 years in one of the two most notorious prisons in Thailand. Surprisingly or not, Thai prisons are much more painful than one might think. During that time and as the only foreign in the prison, he went through unimaginable challenges.

Firstly, the language barrier and the fact that he could not understand anything that was said to him, the rules, the threats, the very rare friendly advice. Therefore, he could only trust his gut and use his physical strength to defend himself. Secondly, the extreme violence of the guards towards the prisoners, and the violence of the prisoners themselves.

Not advisable for sensitive viewers, I must say. There are moments in which you will want to close your eyes and repeat to yourself “this is just a film”. But for those who like to be moved, shaken, awoken - here’s pure reality, with no accessories, no lies, no faking. Here is the life of a man who spent 3 painful years fighting for his own survival in the middle of the jungle.

In the very beginning of the film, Billy is forced to watch a young, vulnerable prisoner being raped by three men right in front of his eyes, with a knife pointed at his neck. But this was only one of the innumerable, deadly cruel situations he is forced to go through. Throughout the film, it is inevitable to question how can one be so strong as to survive in such shockingly hard conditions.

The multiple, terrible situations he faces leads to pure mental and physical exhaustion that even we, as spectators, can feel, thanks to the power of Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders)'s gruelling performance. Billy’s eyes are ours during the film, and we perceive the traumatic environment of the prison as if we were there. We are truly immersed in the suffering.

All of Billy’s “mates” in prison are practically fully tattooed, and their tattoos show their own past experiences and stories. Interestingly, all the inmates were not actors, but ordinary Thai people hired to make the film. We cannot understand their language, but words are unnecessary when all there is to feel and understand can be shown by their emotions, actions, and appearances.

Billy’s courage is admirable. His mental and physical strength as well, for many people in his situation would have given in. He did not, and step by step conquered the trust of a well-regarded box trainer, reached the Thai boxing arenas, and fought against the best Thai boxers until he won.

It was a tough ride for Billy. Nobody believed in him, nobody could fully understand his language, and nobody wanted him to succeed. Eventually, he managed to get that trainer to believe in his abilities and work with him for the victory in the arena. He made it, but the journey was, again, long, painful, full of setbacks and very, very emotionally and physically draining.

Directed by Jean Stéphane Sauvaire, this film is based on the book ‘A Prayer before Dawn: A Nightmare in Thailand’, that tells Billy’s story from his childhood to his release from prison. The real Billy Moore truly provided a great input and guidance throughout the writing and making of the film, creating the authenticity and reality that Sauvaire wanted to convey. The fact that we know beforehand that all of these experiences truly happened makes it much more interesting, inspiring and for sure, even more moving.

A Prayer Before Dawn (2018) shows a shocking reality that most people aren’t aware of. It is a hard film to watch. Surely not enjoyable, as most films are. However, once you immerse yourself in the suffering and cruelty of this prison, dive into his life, and put yourself in all of the situations he faced, you will undoubtedly receive an incredibly powerful and important message: that if Billy had the strength to survive and succeed in possibly one of the hardest environments in the world, we all can, in any situation.

That is the power of films: a tiny bit of entertainment, a whole lot of new experiences conveyed, and then, which not all are able to achieve, an impactful message. This film succeeded in all these three sections.

A Prayer Before Dawn is released on July 20th, distributed by Attitude Film Entertainment.

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