I think it’s safe to say I’m not spoiling anything for anyone when I note that Deliver Us From Evil ends with an exorcism, this being a movie about demonic possession and all. And it’s a pretty awesome one, which is sure to pop in my mind come the end of this year, when I’m thinking back on the most memorable moments from 2014’s horror offerings.
Unfortunately, it’s likely that this sequence, which comprises the final 15 or so minutes of the film, is likely to be the only thing about it that I remember, once the calendar switches over to 2015.
The latest film from Scott Derrickson, who previously impressed me personally with both The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil is based on the real-life accounts of former NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie, who investigated many different cases of alleged demonic possession – and wrote about them in his book Beware the Night.
Eric Bana plays Sarchie in the film, who teams up with unconventional priest Mendoza, together uncovering a twisted web of demonically-induced murder and mayhem. Tying together each crime, which initially includes spousal abuse and a mother’s attempted murder of her own young child, is a mysterious man by the name of Santino, who seems hellbent on unleashing Hell upon New York City.
The frustrating thing about Deliver Us From Evil is that it’s got a whole lot of good going for it. For one, the cast all around is solid, with Eric Bana embodying the hard-nosed cop who’s seen it all and Edgar Ramirez bringing to the screen the rare cinematic priest who you’d actually like to grab a drink with. Even “The Soup” host Joel McHale delivers a surprising performance that largely sheds his comedic persona, while Prometheus star Sean Harris is pretty damn terrifying as the possessed Santino – though I really wish the trailers didn’t spoil the secret of what lies beneath his hooded sweatshirt.
Also impressive is the general atmosphere of the film, which is thick with dread and anxiety from right out of the gate. Derrickson paints a cruel portrait of the world that Sarchie spends most of his time in, the character aptly referring to that treacherous and grimy alternative to his home life as ‘the sewer.’ The production design is terrific and the steady stream of threats both human and animal are adequately unnerving, imbuing the film – particularly in the early going – with an immersive atmosphere that puts you inside of Sarchie’s shoes.
Adding to that atmosphere is the film’s incredible cinematography, which is likely to impress even those who don’t normally notice that sort of thing. From a visual standpoint, Deliver Us From Evil is quite beautiful to look at, with a handful of overhead and Steadicam shots that serve to make the film’s visual style one of its strongest suits.
So, what’s the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ that comes along with all this ‘good’? Again, that’s the frustrating part, because the only really bad thing I can say about Deliver Us From Evil is that it’s far too by-the-numbers for my liking, with the mashed-together worlds of police procedural and Exorcist-inspired occult thriller resulting in a film that’s not just chock full of the cliches of one beaten to death sub-genre, but two of them.
One of the TV spots for Deliver Us From Evil advertises it as being ‘Seven meets The Exorcist,’ which is one of the most honest bits of marketing we’ve seen this year. Indeed, the film is a mash-up of those movies, with so many plainly visible strands of their DNA that I found it hard to become invested in it as its own movie. For the most part, Deliver Us From Evil is a ‘going through the motions’ sort of affair, and the fusion of demonic possession with cop thriller does little to set the film apart from the dozens of other Exorcist ripoffs we’ve been beaten over the head with over the course of the last several years.
Frankly, I found myself mostly bored throughout the majority of Deliver Us From Evil‘s way-too-long two hours, caring little about the characters – though again, acting is solid – or the story. Despite all the good it’s got going for it, Derrickson’s latest just isn’t all that compelling or engaging, and I felt as if everything on screen was going right through me, rather than making any sort of impact.
So ya see, though there’s nothing notably bad about Deliver Us From Evil, the good is nevertheless outweighed by how familiar it feels, with that familiarity serving to make nearly every aspect of the film fairly dull and lifeless. It’s the kind of movie that you’ve seen before you’ve even seen it, which is a shame considering Derrickson is a filmmaker who’s proven himself capable of bringing more to the table than generic thrills and chills.
Jam packed with jump scares aplenty, Deliver Us From Evil is essentially just another Hollywood possession flick, likely to invade the nightmares of teenagers and bore anyone who’s been there, seen that. It’s not a bad film, it’s just not a very memorable one, and I’d be very surprised if anyone’s still talking about it a few years from now.
Then again, I suppose it’s a high class problem for a film, when that’s the worst thing that can be said about it, eh?