Deliver Us From Evil (2014)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/02/14 10:34:20
The very first thing we see in the horror/cop hybrid "Deliver Us From Evil" is a title card informing us that what we are about to see is "Inspired by" the experiences of former New York cop and demonologist Ralph Sarchie, who studied with famed paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren (whose exploits were chronicled in last year's brilliant "The Conjuring") and has racked up a record including 300 arrests and 20 exorcisms, some of which were chronicled in his 2001 book "Beware the Night." Based on the events depicted here, I am going to go out on a limb and guess that "Loosely To Promiscuously Inspired" might be a little closer to the truth and not just because the events depicted on screen are set in 2013 with a prologue taking place a mere three years earlier. My guess is that if there was even a fraction of the demonic activity on display here taking place on the streets of the Big Apple, word might have gotten out. If nothing else, Donald Trump would have presumably made some sort of comment, if only to blame it all on Obama. But I kid "Deliver Us From Evil" and with good reason for it is an eminently silly movie for the most part--far less terrifying than "Tammy" but considerably funnier--though it does rally a little bit in the late innings with a fairly well-staged exorcism sequence and contains a lead performance that probably better than it deserves.As depicted here, Sarchie (Eric Bana) seems to be perfectly suited to be the central figure in both a horror film and a cop thriller. He is a man whose years seeing the worst of humanity on the streets of the Bronx have caused him to lose his religious faith. He has a dark secret in his past regarding a criminal he got a little rough with that continues to haunt him. He has an uncanny knack for sensing potentially dangerous cases for he and his wise-crack, adrenaline junkie partner Butler (Joel McHale. . .yes, Joel McHale) to take for themselves. He has a wife (Olivia Munn) who despairs that he is never around and that he never is willing to share things about his life with her when he is home. He has an adorable little daughter (Lulu Wilson) who sleeps in a big and spooky room filled with creepy stuffed animals and a jack-n-the-box, a toy that I believe is nowadays only owned by little kids in horror movies. The only thing missing is a scene in which he is called upon the carpet by a commanding officer played by Frank McRae and forced to turn over his gun, badge and rosary. Then again, maybe they are saving that for the sequel.
Anyway, Sarchie and Butler begin investigating a couple of strange cases--a crazed woman tries to throw her baby into the lion den at the Bronx Zoo and a house painter is found wrapped up in the basement of a house after having apparently willingly guzzled a load of paint thinner--and eventually discover that the two appear to be linked. It seems that the woman's husband and the painter served in the same patrol in Iraq with Santino (Sean Harris) and, in the previously referenced prologue, the three stumbled upon an underground chamber containing a wall filled with mysterious writings and much much worse. Now possessed, Santino is apparently using those writings as a way of recruiting others to his cause in order to help create portals through which demonic forces can enter our world. Naturally, Sarchie thinks that this is complete nonsense but eventually he is convinced by Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, leather-wearing badass of God, that what is going on is nothing short of pure primary evil and that only one thing can possibly stop it--somehow tracking down Santino, who has kidnapped Sarchie's wife and daughter along the way, and taking him to an interrogation room so that he and Mendoza can perform an exorcism on him before all is lost.
Although films involving demonic possession are a horror sub-genre that I have never found to be especially effective for the most part--possibly due to not having been raised Catholic--I am still willing to fall under the spell of one as long as it either does something unusual and interesting with the basic material or, barring that, figures out a way of serving up the same old silliness with the proper amount of style and tension. Take "The Conjuring," for example--instead of turning into the cheesy "Amityville Horror" knockoff that it might have been in other hands, director James Wan took all the familiar gimmicks and tropes and delivered them in a smashingly effective manner that had even the hardiest genre junkies jumping in their seats. Although the idea of combining demonic possession with a gritty crime drama suggests an oddball cinematic Reese's Cup, it just means that the film has two sets of cliches to lean on throughout.
The cop stuff is handled in the most perfunctory manner possible--the stuff involving the alienated wife and daughter is given an exceptionally awkward handling-- and the casting of Joel McHale as the knife-happy, fast-talking partner is so intrinsically odd that it throws the sanity of the entire film into question. (However, if his character made a deal with Satan regarding the revival of "Community," I guess it makes some kind of sense.) Likewise, the horror stuff is largely relegated to an endless number of shots in which animals or people sudden pop up into camera frame out of nowhere for a quick jolt--a gimmick that generally works maybe once or twice and then quickly becomes more irritating that frightening. (Let me just say that the film's SPCA rep probably did not have much downtime on this shoot.) And perhaps to acknowledge that it is dealing with two genres that are often set in low-light surroundings, the visual scheme of the film is so dark at times that it feels as if Clint Eastwood had taken over the directorial reins at some point.
So yeah, "Deliver Us From Evil" is pretty stupid for the most part but to be fair, it does have a couple things going in its favor. In Eric Bana, it has a lead actor who is probably too good for this sort of nonsense but who never lets on about that being the case. Even when the melodramatic elements threaten to overwhelm the proceedings, he takes his performance fairly seriously and gives the story the realistic grounding that it so desperately needs. It also has, surprisingly enough, a fairly effective climactic exorcism scene that manages to supply all the required jolts and gross-out moments (including the possessee taking a few chunks out of his own flesh at one point) without succumbing to the usual cliches involving projectile vomit or people floating in the air. Then again, director Scott Derrickson has had some practice in this regard as one of his previous films was "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," another better-than-it-had-to-be film along these lines that made a concerned effort to keep things on a relatively realistic level. (If anybody out there is about to claim that I have spoiled the film by revealing that it ends with an exorcism, I can only say that the chances of a film like this not ending with the power of Christ compelling people are roughly the same as that "America" film opening with dopey straw man arguments that it still fails to respond to in a satisfactory or coherent manner.)"Deliver Us From Evil" is not a particularly good movie and there is no way that I can recommend it. That said, it isn't nearly as offensively bad as such recent films as "Transformers 4," "Tammy" or "Earth to Echo" and if you can forgive a lot of nonsense along the way (especially a confessional monologue from Father Mendoza about his checkered past that suggests that the Catholic Church is more flexible than Hobby Lobby), it contains just enough in the way of good moments to make you wish that the rest of it actually worked. Besides, if nothing else--and I realize that I am pretty much grasping at straws here--the film does confirm every single thing that I have ever held to be true about the music of The Doors.
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