Deliver Us from Evil (2014) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout, and language
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Joel McHale, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris, Olivia Horton, Lulu Wilson, Chris Coy
Director: Scott Derrickson
Screenplay: Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris Boardman (based on the book. "Beware the Night", by Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool)
Review published July 4, 2014
Scott Derrickson, who put himself on the horror-movie director map with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, takes up the subject of demons and the possessed again with Deliver Us from Evil, which mixes in elements of the police procedural genre and delivers far less positive results. The film is inspired by (read, only tangentially based upon), "Beware the Night" (a much better title), the memoirs of former NYPD detective Ralph Sarchie, who claims to have encountered evidence of the supernatural while on the beat patrolling the streets of the Bronx.
In the film, Eric Bana (Lone Survivor, Closed Circuit) plays the aforementioned Sgt. Sarchie, a policeman who has grown increasingly disheartened by the wicked acts he sees men do for little apparent reason - a feeling exacerbated by the "radar" (a la "Spidey sense") he possesses that clues him in with visual and auditory stimuli to help him hone in on the evildoers. While investigating the latest rash of truly disturbing incidents that seem to have a weird connection to events that happened in the Iraq war three years before, Sarchie ends up joining forces with a rather unique, undercover Jesuit priest named Father Mendoza (Ramirez, The Counselor), who thinks there's more of a spiritual explanation to the crimes involved than mental illness. The closer Sarchie gets to the origin of the unspeakable evil, the more danger he exposes himself and his family to.
Derrickson draws out a particularly dark and foreboding look at New York City, which captures the seedy, slum-ridden areas infested with rats, roaches and flies to give a sense of unease and nausea as we watch Sarchie stumble through darkened alleys and dank apartments in search of clues to bolster his case. This is a dark film, not just in tone, but most of the film is dimly lit by artificial lighting, especially in the tenser moments in which the proximity to evil snuffs out the light as our protagonists are stuck in claustrophobic places with seemingly no way out. The creepiness is helped along from its sound design, which ups the eeriness factor for those who enjoy atmospheric horror punctuated by (fairly predictable) jump-scares.
But the atmosphere, along with decent chemistry between Bana (adopting a passable New York accent) and Ramirez, provides one of the few interesting things about what is otherwise a dismally repugnant and interminably dull horror excursion. At its core, the film is ostensibly about a policeman whose witnessing of evil has shaken his faith, and a priest who shows him that the championing of good can win him back. What it ends up being is another 'jack-in-the-box' horror film (not coincidentally, the film eventually features a jack-in-the-box for a scare), in which the police detectives investigate a series of progressively creepier places while the atmosphere gets spookier, the lights get dimmer, and the quietest moment is punctuated by a completely unnecessary jump-scare, usually involving a loud and snarling animal (a lion, a house cat, a bear, oh my!).
The film is also grossly overlong at 118 minutes, with entire scenes coming to a near standstill as we see a lot of fiddling around with flashlights and close-ups of cockroach infestations for no other reason except to lull us into distraction. The climax also features what feels like the longest exorcism scene in movie history, very similar to others you've seen before, except with the bilingual tag-team reading of the standard script from both cop and priest (a symbol of Sarchie's return to his faith), while the lights flicker, the camera gets shakier, and the noise factor threatens to explode the theater speakers. Anything to keep you awake.
But the worst part of the film is the sheer lack of honest reactions among characters who are supposed to be based on real people. Sarchie reacts robotically to nearly all of the bizarre, supernatural events that play out around him, whether it's witnessing one of his pet fish get savagely attacked from all of the other fish in the tank, or whether he gets a chunk of his arm bitten out from a crazed (and likely possessed) woman he's foolishly decided to provoke through the bars of a jail cell, or whether he is told by his wife (Munn, Iron Man 2) that his daughter (Wilson, The Millers) is experiencing these terrors in her very own bedroom. Where is the acknowledgement? Where is the astonishment? Where is the shocking revelation that all of the beliefs Sarchie had come to conclude was a fiction is now forcing him into deciding what he truly believes? Why does the anguish, horror, and crippling fear never register on his face?
Deliver Us from Evil is a disappointment from the promising Derrickson, who appeared to be on a surge with 2/3 of a great horror film in Sinister and having impressed the folks at Marvel enough to allow him the reins of their upcoming Dr. Strange movie (coincidentally, this film features plenty of references to The Doors' "People Are Strange"). There's just too much talent, both in front of and behind the camera, to be satisfied with such a mostly joyless and, what's worse, mostly scare-less genre flick. At a boredom-inducing 2-hour slog, you'll be begging Deliver Us from Evil to deliver you to your too-long-in-coming freedom.
©2014 Vince Leo