Deliver Us From Evil
(118 Minutes, Rated R)
To be truly honest, I begrudgingly walked into Deliver Us From Evil with low expectations; rumor has it, the Scott Derrickson picture was another lame duckling, in a long line of failing modern horror films. However, the flaws, which are extremely evident throughout, did not seem to hinder my overall enjoyment. And while it did not reinvent the genre, the quickly paced 118-minute movie entertains.
With that said, even though it is not that scary, an element that is important in horror, the overall tone blended with an appreciation in its failed attempts, which helped me to forgive Deliver Us’ drawbacks. The idea behind this flick was scarier than what was being presented on screen: this means that the developed backstory of a crime riddled New York interplayed with a seemingly random demonic possession is a scary thought. And the result, which could be because of my catholic school guilt, is empathy for our protagonist’s, Sarchie (Eric Bana) and Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez), righteous cause.
Perhaps, the over-saturation of demonic possessions in modern culture has desensitized me and lessened its frightening effect: The Exorcist seems like kid stuff in comparison to modern horror. So this means that a director has to do something different, in order to make his or her product scary. And while Scott Derrickson did not fully succeed with that, he created an alarming realistic universe in which people sleepwalk through day-to-day life and unknowingly allow pure evil to walk beside them. Again, it is the idea that this demonic possession can happen anywhere that is chilling and it truly compensates for the lacking scares.
The extremely urban Bronx subverts the ‘cabin in the woods’ cliché that has overwhelmed most horrors: Friday the 13th, The Strangers and Evil Dead all play off the notion of isolationism. Yes, no one wants to be in the woods with a demon/killer, but I always found the idea of being helpless in an urban setting, where there are tons of people who are powerless to assist, as an infinitely scarier concept. Now take this urban reality and blend it with a hard R rating, a religious subtext, a somewhat grounded NYPD storyline and you have a film that comes awfully close to succeeding.
With that said, it is necessary to point out that Deliver Us From Evil is rooted in deeply religious ideology. Something that has become either taboo or uncomfortable for mainstream audiences: almost as if religious films are a product of Hollywood’s yesteryear. And even though I am not religious, this aspect did not bother me: I do not mind religion when it has a purpose. In fact, it perfectly plays into the idea of the unknown: which aids the urban scares by showing that there could be a higher power.
Either way, the religious angle flawlessly adds an extra layer to what could have been a one-dimensional product. And even if the religion feels heavy handed at times, the dark gritty world inhabited by imperfect heroes establishes an almost consistent eerie tone. On top of this, Sean Harris as the demonically possessed Santino is effective and creepy throughout; yes, all he does for the first half is stand and stare, but the apartment house sequence and the police station exorcism are blood curdling because of his expressions and intense make-up.
But again, I must stress that this exorcism flick does nothing to reinvent the genre; at best it could be looked at as a guilty pleasure that slightly rises above its ‘B movie’ classification with spooky atmosphere and an intense villain. For instance, the writing leaves a lot to be desired: Deliver Us From Evil will not be taught in college screenplay classes anytime soon. In fact, the cringe-worthy beginning caused me to regret my choice to see this; the opening act has terrible dialogue, which is further worsened by some distinct horror clichés: something I did not expect from Scott Derrickson, who is by now a seasoned veteran in the genre.
Also, the poor screenplay does not stop with vomit-inducing dialogue; it also has several sub-plots that equate to nothing. For instance, one of the demonically possessed women is forgotten about after she escapes from a psychiatric hospital: which highlights the plot-hole of attempting a gritty realistic horror story. If this is supposed to be ‘based on a true story,’ you have to at least make the ‘real’ elements, such as the cops’ activity, rational. Again, the demonically possessed lady escapes from a hospital and kills a doctor, yet Bana’s character is not warned or scared: even when she has been extremely hostile towards him. If this is supposed to be modern day, then the arresting officers or at least the precinct should be warned about her absence.
Yes, it is a movie and I am supposed to suspend my belief, yet this ‘based on true story horror craze’ hinges on the fact that everything besides the supernatural event is ‘down-to-earth.’ Meanwhile, there are cops running around having knife-fights, relentlessly punching thugs without consequence and a demonically possessed man killing in a modern technology-filled society: either set this in the past to avoid this distracting plot-hole or address the question of technology. But even with these problems, I still remained intensely engaged in the developing story, which allowed me to cope with this nearly fatal flaw. And even though the somewhat cohesive story from Derrickson and his writing partner Paul Harris Boardman stumbles, the director’s slick pace and visual style slightly elevates it above the five-dollar bargain bin.
As previously mentioned, this is far from the ‘next big horror entry:’ actually, the Scott Derrickson picture mostly relies on cheap jump scares throughout. Something that would have been extremely annoying if I did not already buy into its ‘B level style.’ And while it does try to be overly serious and could have used some camp, the aforementioned urban religious ideology is what kept me entertained. And even with the cheap scares, people have to admit that the sound editing and mixing are nearly perfect: they help maintain the consistently eerie tone throughout.
Furthermore, Derrickson’s direction allowed for some pretty chilling scenes, including the final exorcism: he manipulates camera angles to provide an extremely intense claustrophobic feel, which further emphasizes the aforementioned urban horror. On top of this, Derrickson creates a fantastic pace that does not seem to let up for 118 minutes. Perhaps five minutes could have been shaved, but even that additional time did not seem to hinder its runaway train pace: which was something refreshing after last week’s 165 minute disaster known as Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Yet, these small hints of sunshine are ruined by some key directorial choices. For instance, the action scenes were choppily shot and edited: the mixture of shaky cam and quick cuts prevent the audience from distinguishing the action. And this has to make any Doctor Strange fan a little apprehensive about his approach to the new Marvel action film: I for one am nervous because I have never fully enjoyed any of his flicks. I have found some redeeming qualities in them, but at the same time, all of his films had distinct directorial/writing decisions that held them back.
Another flaw in Deliver Us From Evil results from Derrickson’s terrible ear for accents: both Munn and Bana attempt a New York accent that will make any New Yorker repulsed. But again, I bought into the world. By doing so, I eventually forgot about the accent and gave into the story: something that should be credited to Sarchie’s interestingly dark and gruesome backstory. Also, Sarchie is the perfect avatar for the audience: a seemingly anti-religious man who is as confused by the events as we are. And Bana possesses a charisma that makes his hard-nosed character somewhat likable: a feat that the writing did not make easy. As for the supporting roles, Olivia Munn and Lulu Wilson’s wife and daughter characters are nothing more than one dimensional plot points: the audience is only scared for them because of their attachment to Sarchie.
On top of that, Joel McHale’s adrenaline junkie Butler provides the necessary comic relief, but even his role is hindered by editing: which causes him to disappear in act two, only to reappear and quickly leave again in act three. With that said, Édgar Ramírez is seemingly entertaining as Mendoza, who is not your atypical priest. Though most of his lines are filled with exposition, it is forgiven because the exposition is necessary to progress the story. He also provides an accessible priest for the modern audience: in this day and age, a good-looking drug addled younger priest is much easier to be empathetic towards than a Max von Sydow type.
No matter what way I look at it, I know this is a deeply flawed flick. But its heart, as well as, its commitment to a vision created an engaging atmosphere: so much so, that I was thoroughly entertained for 118 minutes. If anybody truly wanted, they could dissect this and pick out the innumerable imperfections in Deliver Us From Evil: instead, I enjoyed it for what it was. And I recommend it to others who want to ‘check their brains at the door’ and enjoy an eerie picture with an intense premise.