?Supernatural thrillers about demonic possession and exorcisms have become all the rage in recent years and no one knows that better than filmmaker Scott Derrickson and his writing partner Paul Boardman, whose early feature film The Exorcism of Emily Rose may have helped to start the wave. Now, they’re back in familiar territory with Deliver Us from Evil – another horror film based on true events, this one about a case of the supernatural that disrupts the rarely mundane world of a Bronx detective.
After an opening prologue set in Iraq showing a group of marines finding a mysterious cave containing some unknown threat, we move forward a few months to the South Bronx where two police detectives, Ralph Sarchie and Butler (Eric Bana and oddly cast Joel McHale), are discovering a series of cases that seem to be related. They also seem to get progressively weirder as a domestic abuse case leads to an incident at a zoo of a mother trying to kill her two-year-old. Sarchie even starts to hallucinate things yet he continues to be skeptical about the possibilities of demonic possession even when Edgar Ramirez’s Jesuit priest Mendoza shows up to set him straight.
There’s a certain formula and familiarity to films in the demonic sub-genre of horror, but showing it through the eyes of detectives as they uncover truly disturbing crime scenes gives it a unique twist that helps set it apart. Much of the movie’s first half involves a few too many scenes of Sarchie walking through darkened spaces with a flashlight, a mainstay of modern horror films, but it’s easier to get pulled into the story as you try to solve the clues along with him.
As with some of Derrickson’s previous movies, the key to it working is the casting of solid dramatic actors, and both Bana and Ramirez are able to elevate the material beyond what we normally see in horror films, especially in the quieter expositional scenes. At first, the family stuff with Sarchie’s wife, played by Olivia Munn, and daughter doesn’t really bring much to the table, maybe because Munn isn’t particularly convincing in the role, but that changes when the evil starts to terrorize Sarchie’s family leading to some of the eeriest moments. McHale may be some of the oddest casting of the film, but his string of one-liners through the first half does help to keep things grounded.
There’s certainly an inherent silliness in some of the blatant overacting by the possessed, and some viewers might get a little annoyed by all the unexplained references to The Doors, but there’s also stuff that’s very effective at creeping you out.
Derrickson once again shows off his mastery of the genre with a sharp looking film, one that uses minimal lighting and the darkness to create a perfect tone to keep the viewer at unease. Some of the scares are a little bit cheap in the way they’re sprung but it’s more about the slow build and pulling you into the story before things explode. Like in Sinister, Derrickson plays with some truly disturbing imagery that comes to the fore in the last half hour when things start to heat up and get insanely intense. The actual exorcism scene, while fully expected, is as good or better than any we’ve seen in recent years with moments as genuinely freaky as the first time you watched The Exorcist. Considering what a golden ring that is to all filmmakers making supernatural thrillers, that’s saying something.
The Bottom Line:
While there isn’t a ton of reinventing the wheel in terms of demonic possession or the police procedural, the combination of those two genres makes Deliver Us from Evil far more satisfying than it might have been otherwise.