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Deliver Us from Evil (2009)
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by Jay Seaver

"Brings a stew of tension to a rapid boil."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Ole Bornedal was never really away from filmmaking, but time spent trying to work Hollywood and then working Danish theater kept his film output very sparse in the ten years leading up to 2007. Since then, though, he's been back with a vengeance, each new movie better than the last, with the latest a thriller that is both narratively intriguing and laser-focused.

We start with brothers. Johannes (Lasse Rimmer) was a big-city lawyer who, with his wife Pernille (Lene NystrÝm), moved back to the small town - and family home - where he grew up a few years ago. Lars (Jens Andersen) is his exact opposite, an unkempt drunk of a truck driver with a foul mouth and a violent temper, although he realizes he needs to change, especially upon learning his girlfriend Scarlett (Pernille Vallentin) is pregnant. But just as he's about to turn over that new leaf, he runs over an old woman just out of town. Now, he's not stupid - he quickly finds a way to throw the blame on Alain (Bojan Navojec), a Bosnian refugee helping Johannes work on the family home. What Lars doesn't figure on is Ingvar (Mogens Pedersen), the dead woman's husband, who is as admired by all about town as he is completely dependent upon his wife for his mental stability.

Bornedal knows where he wants Deliver Us from Evil to go, and he is ruthlessly efficient in getting it there. Narration quickly supplies us with information about the characters and town, plots that were set up separately intertwine quickly but in a manner that doesn't smack of coincidence. Brief moments of comic relief plant a seed in the audience's head that the potential for ugly behavior lies within even the most gentle of souls. There is no time spent on hand-wringing: Characters are decisive, moving us inevitably toward confrontation.

When that confrontation comes, it is tense and violent and even as it rapidly becomes louder and more garish, it never moves into territory that becomes unbelievable. Everybody, at some point, does something that they should later be ashamed of, an impressive feat considering that Johannes and Pernille find themselves in direct opposition as to what they should do next. It's a tense, thrilling siege that starts and ends with horrors and has moments that will absolutely make the audience wince.

Every character is fascinating to watch as the movie goes on. Though Lasse Rimmer plays the character who must, by any definition, be regarded as the film's hero, he does a fine job early on of showing a side that may be out of step with his blue-collar neighbors, as does Lene NystrÝm. Rimmer adds a cool determination during the finale that, as much as it inspires confidence, is also a little bit frightening. Mogens Pedersen is utterly believable as a man both on and over the edge, and Bajan Navojec plays Alain as a friendly, but utterly lost, mountain of a man. Pernille Vallentin gives what seems like a pitch-perfect portrayal of a woman in a bad relationship without seeming like she is totally defined by her bad choices in men. And Jens Andersen is spellbinding. We never want to look away as he spews hate and cold-bloodedly causes another man's downfall, but he never becomes a cartoon villain; he's intriguing to watch as the situation Lars created spins well out of his control.

Nothing ever spins out of Bornedal's control, though. Every minute of this movie is precisely planned, and while that precision is highly noticeable - Sonja Richter's narrator appears in the first minutes of the film, letting us know early that Bornedal doesn't intend to stay in the background - it's not distracting. Noticing how the scenes in town are almost monochrome compared to the brighter colors elsewhere, or how the camera locks onto Lars as he leaves his truck and walks toward the body, keeping him at the same distance while the mangled corpse threatens to show itself at the bottom of the screen, never reduces the movie to feeling like a technical exercise. How the filmmakers are presenting the story is as intriguing as the story itself, but never jolts us out of the moment.

Ole Bornedal pulls several different motifs - religious, political, economic, and familial - together to make "Deliver Us from Evil" work, but it never feels bloated. Quite the opposite; it's a tense, exciting thriller that grabs our attention early and then shows enough style and tension that it's all but impossible to look away.

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originally posted: 07/31/10 13:11:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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