On paper or at a pitch meeting, Deliver Us From Evil probably looked like a “can’t miss” project. Begin with the trappings of a horror film – a psychopath on the loose, strange hieroglyphic messages written on apartment walls, demonic possession and a charismatic exorcist. Combine these elements with New York City cops, fights with suspects, and some Bronx accents, and you’ve got the best of both worlds – a horror movie cop drama. Unfortunately, Deliver Us From Evil leans on familiar plot beats, fails to generate any real suspense and has nothing new to offer either genre.
Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is a cop in the Bronx who is investigating a couple of murders that have an occult feel to them. Haunted by a violent act in his past, he looks for a rational earthly explanation for what he experiences as his investigation takes one bizarre turn after another. Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), a Catholic priest and paranormal investigator of sorts, tries to convince Sarchie that there are otherworldly forces at work. To fight evil in the world, Sarchi must first confront the darkness inside himself.
Horror films benefit from quiet, lingering shots. The longer the take, the more the suspense has an opportunity to build. It’s the anticipation that’s frightening – hands over your eyes, peaking between your fingers, waiting for the unknown. Through the first half of the film, Deliver Us From Evil is edited with so many cuts per second that confusion replaces any suspense. Hand-to-hand fights are completely obscured by poor editing. Only during the final third of the film does the visual presentation calm down enough to let the film breathe a little, and by then, you likely won’t care.
Realism is not usually in high demand, and rarely on display, in a horror film, but if a project is advertised as being “inspired by real events” and offers the gritty trappings of a crime drama, then some degree of accuracy should be observed. When a suspect pulls a knife on Sachi’s partner, Butler (Joel McHale), he simply pulls his own knife to let the mano-a-mano fireworks begin. Really? Did the N.Y.P.D. revise their manual to dispense with pepper spray and tasers and proceed directly to Navy SEAL-style knife fights in apartment hallways? And why are you pulling a knife, if you have a gun holstered right next to it? Sean Connery’s advice to Eliot Ness in The Untouchables comes to mind.
In a flashback sequence, we’re told that Sachi was involved in a serious incident of police brutality, but he appears to remain on the force with no questions asked. A few more dialogue beats talking about disciplinary boards and a brief suspension might have sold it a bit better. These narrative flaws destroy the momentum of the film and remind an audience they are watching a work of fiction. Sitting through Deliver Us From Evil is like reading a novel that has a typo every fifty pages.
The film also suffers from questionable casting and some poor acting choices. Joel McHale as a tough special ops cop is a bit hard to believe. At least let him grow a beard, so the audience isn’t constantly reminded that he’s the snarky, baby-faced host of TV’s The Soup. And if you can’t muster a Bronx accent any better than the one employed by Eric Bana, skip it. (And I thought the southern accents in The Help were distracting?)
Disappointment in this film is even greater because Deliver Us From Evil comes from writer/director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister) who has clearly shown that he can make a suspenseful horror film. Given his obvious talent, I can’t help but wonder if Deliver Us From Evil was ruined by the “film-making-by-committee” approach that taints so many motion pictures. Was this his original vision or did on-set compromises alter the story he intended to tell? Maybe my enjoyment of his previous work is causing me to make excuses for him. You can’t hit a home run every time, but Deliver Us From Evil is barely a loud foul ball.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.