Film Review – Deliver Us From Evil
Deliver Us From Evil
Deliver Us From Evil (2014) starts off with one of those messages saying it is inspired by real events. This is supposed to entice fear and tension within the audience. Problem is, every other horror film has this message. It’s been recycled so often that whatever impact it used to have is no longer there. Starting a film off by announcing it’s based on reality is like starting a children’s bedtime story with “Once upon a time.”
I was looking forward to this one, mostly because of Scott Derrickson, its director. This is the same person who co-wrote and directed Sinister (2012), which I found to be one of the most unnerving movie going experiences I’ve had in a long while. The guy knows how to develop atmosphere and pay it off with terror. He once again shares screenplay credits (this time with Paul Harris Boardman) in adapting the book by Lisa Collier Cool and Ralph Sarchie (who supposedly lived through the actual events). But instead of giving us another frightening look into evil, Derrickson has made something that feels reserved. Instead of pushing the genre in different directions, he’s played it safe, relying on run of the mill scare tactics that are both not very scary and pretty predictable as well.
That’s not to say Derrickson has to push the envelope. The issue is he relies too much on tired horror tropes to get a reaction. Audiences today are well aware of the usual tricks to make them jump out of their seats. How many times have we seen a character look into a mirror, then look away, and then look back only to see something (or someone) right behind them? How many times have we seen one of those Jack in a Box toys start working mysteriously on its own, and when it pops open something scary happens? And how many times have we fallen prey to a jump scare that’s accompanied by an ear-piercing sound effect? None of these things are new, and unfortunately Derrickson and his team do not change them enough to keep us on our toes.
Another problem: is this even really a horror film? On the surface, it has all the trimmings to look like one. But from its plot, it is much more along the lines of a procedural. We’re introduced to NY police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) who – along with his adrenaline junkie partner Butler (Joel McHale) – have run across a number of strange crimes and even stranger individuals all around the same time. Every suspect they encounter have similar traits: odd markings on their bodies, animal like behavior, and (for whatever reason) they seem to take pleasure trying to take a bite out of Sarchie himself.
Surely, all these people have something that ties them together. If this were a straight police procedural with Sarchie investigating the criminals, and how that puts a strain on his wife (Olivia Munn) and daughter, I would’ve been right there along with it. But the way it’s contrasted with the supernatural elements does not gel together very well. The tone sways back and forth between the investigation and the religious themes, but they never walk in step with each other. An issue with portraying the paranormal is being able to set specific ground rules for what can be done. Here we have scratches on floorboards, stuffed animals moving on their own, people hearing voices in their head, possessed characters with superhuman strength, demons speaking in Latin, and music from The Doors all mixed together. It’s like a hodge-podge of every popular genre cliché, but with a rock soundtrack!
Things do get better as the plot moves along. Eric Bana does what he can with his character – especially regarding Sarchie’s loss of faith – but its Édgar Ramírez who has the stand out role as Father Mendoza. Working as Sarchie’s religious partner, Ramirez brings a nice edge as the rebel priest. He’s a reformed drug addict who has turned to cigarettes and alcohol as a means to stave off heroine, and does not hide his infatuation for the opposite sex. But when things get down and dirty, Mendoza wastes little time springing into action, even if that means delving out large chunks of expositional dialogue. The story’s climax is where he really gets to shine. Admittedly, the special effects and sound design are well done during this sequence, and Ramirez gets his opportunity to embrace how over the top the situation is.
Deliver Us From Evil drops into that weird grey area where it isn’t a bad movie, but it doesn’t do enough to make it a good one either. It awkwardly sits somewhere in the middle. It has some nice qualities and a pretty good climactic scene, but the use of well-known formulas and an uneven tone prevents it from being anything more than just…what it is.