IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 118 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Iraq, 2010. A small group of soldiers are running through a war zone in the desert when they encounter a man-made underground cave with a Latin inscription on one of the walls and are possessed by some strange force. 2013, New York. Troubled Detective Ralph Sarchie and his partner Butler patrol the streets at night, Ralph clearly being affected by all the human evil he has to deal with on a nightly basis. After finding a dead baby, they go to a house where the husband has beaten the wife and has bleeding fingernails, a zoo where a woman has thrown her two year old son into the lion pit and appears to be possessed, and another house supposedly possessed, where they find a dead body. Could these events be linked, and can Father Mendoza, who specialises in such occurences, be of some assistance to sceptical Ralph?…
Even as they were struggling to recover from those disturbing final scenes of Sinister, many horror fans across the world were probably really excited to see what its director Scott Derrickson would do next. This critic wouldn’t quite call himself one of those, as he wasn’t too impressed with Derrickson’s middling previous exorcism movie The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and the less said about his dire remake of the 1951 science-fiction classic The Day The Earth Stood Still the better! Critical reception to Deliver Us From Evil hasn’t been great [though has there been an exorcism movie most professional critics have liked?] and it doesn’t seem like it’s a Sinister-type hit either. Sadly, I was partly right to be wary, because Deliver Us From Evil didn’t work too well for me, though I say partly because there are some good aspects to the film and every now and again it shows hints of a much better one. Sadly, these hints are mostly drowned in the general mediocrity. This is not at all a bad movie, and most horror fans should get some entertainment value from it, but it is overall a distinctly average one.
Like a great many screen chillers these days, Deliver Us From Evil is supposedly based on a true story, and, as usual, you should probably take the claim with more than one huge pinch of salt. The times are long gone when the fact that a horror film you are watching is meant to be based on true events can send chills down the spine. I suppose the most important question to ask, possibly more important than things like is the plot good, is, is Deliver Us From Evil scary? Now people tend to be scared of different things and films, but my answer would be, for the most part, only a little. Most of the film takes place at night where it seems to be constantly raining, and Derrickson even seems to have told most of his cast [and even extras] to wear dark clothing to enhance the atmosphere. The film does have a muted feel of creepiness, but it generally remains muted. Of course there are a few jump scares, and Derrickson is very good at these, while there’s one effective bit which uses children’s toys [including the always effective Jack-in-the-box] as objects of fear [this scene is probably the scariest in the film], but there isn’t really anything that, in a few days time, I will think of and shudder while I do so.
We begin, as do quite a few films these days [well, it is a scary place and appears to be getting scarier by the day, though of course the greatest of all exorcism films that has yet to be matched, The Exorcist, had its opening set there back in 1974], in the Middle East. Two soldiers, Santino and Jimmy, Jimmy recording on his camera, enter a cave. Underground, the camera light starts to flicker and then eventually dies out completely. The two men are heard screaming, and then the night vision comes on to reveal hundreds of bats exiting the cave around the two men. Santino, looking rather different in appearance, produces a light and walks over a river of human skulls to the back of the cave, despite Jimmy’s pleas to leave, and illuminates the back wall of the cave, which has a Latin inscription on it. Something bad happens as the film goes to black and we cut to present day New York. It’s quite a good opening, and bodes well for the rest of the film, which is rather good for a while as we follow Detective Ralph Sarchie and his partner around the city at night as they wade through human scum. Ralph has a sense when something bad is happening, which always leads him to where some evil being committed. As a series of seemingly isolated incidents are connected and increasingly suggest supernatural elements, die-hard sceptic Ralph reluctantly accepts the aid of Father Mendoza who is well versed in the supernatural.
Derrickson keeps things bubbling along nicely and allows many scenes to breathe, like when Ralph is alone in a cellar for ages, but there’s not enough sense of an evil force loose in the city. Deliver Us From Evil is obviously heavily influenced by Seven, but that film had an extraordinarily powerful sense of darkness in it despite not having any fantastical aspects. The script by Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman, adapted from the book by the real-life Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool, gets so contrived that you may even feel like laughing in places. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how close the film is to it, but the idea of the demons communicating in Doors lyrics just seems to be in there because the filmmakers had the rights to some Doors songs, and the device doesn’t really go anywhere. Eventually, it all climaxes in the manner expected of nearly all exorcism movies, and the sequence is reasonably tense as well as resisting the temptation to go over the top, but you will have seen far more intense and powerful similar scenes in the likes of The Possessed and The Devil Inside with the result that it just seems like warmed over stuff from other films. And what happened to the Exorcist-type scene we saw a glimpse of in the trailer where it gets really cold in the interrogating room and you can see everybody’s breath? In any case, I can’t be the only one tiring of such scenes and this particular tale could surely have finished in more interesting fashion.
Just beneath the surface of this film, which seems to be mostly set in old, decaying buildings, is a slight feeling of humanity itself in decay, and I feel that they could have made a much better and certainly more interesting film if they omitted the supernatural aspects, or just hinted at them. Derrickson and his cinematographer Scott Kevan generally do a good job – there’s good use of aerial shots every now and again – though as is the fashion these days they like to get in close and wave the camera about when things get exciting. There’s a break from the deliberately drab, even depressed look of most of the film with a brief flashback which is really bright and colourful. This scene also features a really brutal, but justifiable in context, beating scene in a film which has a few bloody moments but nothing to disturb. It’s most successful aspect is concerning the two main characters. Despite Eric Bana’s [in a role Mark Wahlberg turned down] dodgy New York accent, he and Eddie Ramirez make a great team and seem to enjoy having compellingly disturbed characters to play. When they’re telling each other their secrets or even just hanging out, they’re so watchable that I wished they had been put in a better movie.
The score by Christopher Young, seemingly tiring of scoring horror films as he’s somewhat lost his panache for doing so, is strictly functional, and it’s the elaborate sound effects that are most impressive from an aural point of view. I kind of enjoyed Deliver Us From Evil, because I like this kind of subject, but it really falls far short of what it should have been, doesn’t seem to try very hard to distinguish itself, and doesn’t help itself by seemingly choosing to constantly remind the viewer of similar better films like Fallen [and look out for a visual reference to the original The Hills Have Eyes]. It does just about entertain, so in that respect is just about worth watching, but it probably doesn’t have in it much that you’ll remember a few weeks later.