Contrary to that oft spoken bit of illogical mathematics, one plus one doesn’t always equal three. Thus is the case for Deliver Us From Evil, the latest bit of scary celluloid from Sinister (that’s a title not an adjective) writer-director Scott Derrickson, which attempts to mash together the exorcism horror and police procedural genres but gets tripped up by the aforementioned arithmetic. Well that and spring-loaded cats.
Adopting the latest horror trend of being based on a true story – “true” meaning that some guy just said it was, and so it must be – Deliver Us From Evil follows Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), real life hard-working, family-ignoring, non-demon-believing cop who finds himself reluctantly turned occult investigator when a handful of seemingly unrelated cases all start going bump in the night together.
To combat said bumpiness, Sarchie eventually teams up with Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), a “renegade” Jesuit priest with an eye for the ladies and a knack for casting out demons in violent exorcisms. A party trick that comes in handy when Sarchie has his cases lead him to be a trio of returned war veterans, led by the creepy Santino (Sean Harris), who appear – Sarchie’s beliefs be damned – to have been possessed by demonic forces after they stumbles across some devilish writings in a cave in Iraq.
I added the “eventually” in the opening line of the previous paragraph because initially Sarchie’s only teammate in this malignant misadventure is his police partner, Butler, played by Joel McHale. While Bana is very much the straight man, playing Sarchie with a gruff and tumbled extererior (also, a very tempestuous New Jersey accent) due to being haunted by the horrific crimes he sees daily, McHale doesn’t quite play his expected lighthearted, quippy partner so much as he plays his Community character Jeff Winger parodying the expected lighthearted, quippy partner trope. His never ending barrage of supposedly tension breaking cheesy one liners often feel out of place, especially when the escalating tension was the best thing about the scene.
And really that’s the story of Deliver Us From Evil: for every few steps forward, it inexplicably also takes a few steps back. Bana and especially Ramirez are very well cast for their respective roles, but barring one scene, they don’t really get to do more than just coast on a respective grim face and a smoldering accent. So too Olivia Munn, who plays Sarchie’s wife Jen, merely serves as a plot device with great legs.
Derrickson is also clearly an evil master when it comes to torturing audiences on his rack of supernatural suspense. There is a scene set in a child’s room (why is it always little girls?) that will have you trying to claw your way out of your own skin, and will never let you trust cartoon owl dolls ever again. But for every brilliantly sadistic twist of the screws, he then also resorts to bargain bin jump scare tactics – often with that cheapest of horror tropes: jumpy cats.
The police procedural side of the genre divide fares a bit better though, for while they still employ that most illogical of cop movie cliches – investigating the scene of every crime in oily darkness barely held at bay by the nigh-impotent light from a flashlight clearly made by Fischer-Price (My First Crime Scene Kit!) – at least here, the necessity of said lack of illumination is actually worked into the story. Its seems that these demons seem to have a thing for keeping places in the dark (Eskom, is that you?).
This continuous gloominess may help to keep things moody, but doesn’t do the film any favours when the action picks up though. Derrickson already displays the annoying habit of ADHD action editing with fast and frequent cuts, but throw in a murky set and it turns the film’s one pure action sequence into an almost intelligible, frenetically jumbled mess. The film’s climactic confrontation, which effectively combines its two streams of thought (yes, streams are crossed) in a interrogation/exorcism, fares much better, as Derrickson doesn’t overplay his editing hand. And so too, its the film’s quieter, creepier moments that are easily its best, as Derrickson just lets a believably petrified actor/actress and a few suddenly not-so-innocent-anymore sound cues do all the macabre work for him.
It’s definitely these moments that will stay with you when the credits roll, but that’s unfortunately not a completely good thing in this case. There are a lot of squandered potential here, with certain scenes ending up more ectoplasm than anything else. While some truly scary, brown-pants moments are to be found in the film’s just shy of two-hours running time, and the mixture of genres makes for a few interesting dynamics, Deliver Us From Evil is just far too inconsistent on its overall delivery.
Last Updated: July 9, 2014