Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris Boardman (screenplay), Ralph Sarchie (book)
Stars: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale
Release date: July 2nd, 2014
Distributor: Screen Gems
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: The electrifying performances.
Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.
Which two genres draw in major crowds no matter what? Give up? Ok, I’ll give you a hint – they both rely on cliches, dumb characters, and opening weekend grosses. Ok, fine! The two genres are horror and romantic-comedy. Opening on the July 4th weekend, Deliver Us From Evil is Hollywood’s latest horror/smash-and-crash extravaganza. Yes, the title is as predictable as the ending to a slasher remake (spoiler: the nicest hottie lives!). However, this one belongs to a particular sub-genre currently making the rounds. Deliver Us From Evil, drawing comparisons to the director’s previous work and recent horror flicks of its type, is an exorcism-thriller trying and failing to become a whole other monster in itself.
Abusing Hollywood tropes and audience attendance patterns like a child in Freddy Kruger’s rape dungeon, Deliver Us From Evil comes off like a pitiful effort dumped into an unforgiving release date. In fact, the premise will cause plot-hole critics everywhere to prick up their ears and tap on their keyboards with an unholy amount of glee. However, for those of us willing to suspend pure and unadulterated disbelief, this horror-thriller makes for a quaint outing with mates. Teaming up with an overpriced bucket of popcorn and noisy viewers yelling: “Don’t go in there!”, this B-movie delivers, at most, an enjoyably goofy cinema experience. The story, such as it is, is as tried, tested, and true as an Apple product. Of course, with the Devil being the biggest villain of all, the movie first touches on his/her origins. The plot kicks off in 2010 Iraq, with three soldiers murdering several Taliban soldiers before discovering the story’s most intriguing and terrifying device. Cut to 2013 New York, and grizzled street cop Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is upset with his chaotic profession’s darker shades. After watching a baby die in his arms, Sarchie’s goodwill unravels within one night. With his partner Butler (Joel McHale) pushing him through, Sarchie’s latest case may alter his understanding of good and evil. Teamed up with roguish priest Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), Sarchie may be forced to find his faith before taking down Santino (Sean Harris).
From the opening frame, Deliver Us From Evil, despite labelling itself as being “based on actual events”, shuffles through and picks out every horror, familial drama, and cop-thriller trope in the book. In fact, this derivative horror flick comes just short of pulling out a cursed book and reading from it. This bizarre crime-thriller, the latest sceptics-and-believers tale from polarising writer/director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister), is nowhere near as interesting as his more profound features. Working from his own derivative and ethically unsound screenplay, co-written by frequent collaborator Paul Harris Boardman, Derrickson’s work harks back to a much more meaningful time in horror cinema. As the autistic lovechild of The Exorcist and Seven, Deliver Us From Evil checks off everything said features had already given us. Derrickson, presenting this an inventive and potent genre mash-up, proves that a writer/director can grow too close to their own material. Like the possessed characters running through this concoction, Derrickson has been taken over and manipulated by artistic integrity’s greatest threats – studio executives and teenagers. Catering to certain demands, his latest is a significant step down from the creepy and thought-provoking Sinister. However, it’s still better than his biggest adventure, thus far (the Day the Earth Stood Still remake). Recently hired for Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strangelove, this auteur may further succumb to this particular affliction.
“I’ve seen some horrible things, nothing that can’t be explained by human nature.” (Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), Deliver Us From Evil).
Without examining the fact vs. faith argument, Derrickson and co. assume we know everything about this issue before going in. With Sarchie’s “radar” referred to as a spiritual gift, the movie’s flawed logic and stereotypical overtones keeps us at arm’s length throughout. However, Derrickson’s atmospheric direction salvages an otherwise forgettable exorcism-thriller. With horror tropes plastered across each frame, the jump-scares come thick and fast. In addition, his unique camerawork and sound design ticks amp-up the movie’s overbearing intensity levels. Pumping The Doors at opportune moments, certain musical interludes breath life into several nail-biting sequences. Aptly, Derrickson saves his best directorial flourishes for the final third’s extended exorcism set-piece. Bizarrely, with an unnatural reliance on animals, tattooed villains, toys, crucifixes, and flickering lights, the movie’s bump-in-the-night moments are punctuated with near-laughable jaunts. With McHale’s inclusion, I was half-expecting a satirical jab against cats in scary situations. However, despite his bet efforts, the comedic moments jar with the story’s dour, omnipresent tone. It’s not his fault. In fact, for the most part, he draws convincing turns out of his cast. Bana and Ramirez elevate their polar-opposite roles with innate charisma. Meanwhile, Harris, McHale, and Olivia Munn keep up with their pseudo-valuable supporting characters.
With the Paranormal Activity series and The Last Exorcism dominating cinematic horror of late, this mega-successful genre has all but used up its share of exorcism/crisis-of-faith concepts. With these debates raging on, this particular sub-genre puts everything the most simplistic of terms. Deliver Us From Evil, despite Derrickson’s commendable intentions, can’t help but communicate tried-and-tested information. Obliterating its fine performances and alluring direction, this exorcism-thriller becomes little more than an extended episode of Supernatural. The power of Hollywood compels you? eh, not this time.