Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris Boardman, based on the book Beware the Night by Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool
Cast: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Chris Coy, Dorian Missick, Joel McHale
Running Length: 118 minutes
Synopsis: New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), struggling with his own personal issues, begins investigating a series of disturbing and inexplicable crimes. He joins forces with an unconventional priest (Edgar Ramrez), schooled in the rituals of exorcism, to combat the frightening and demonic possessions that are terrorizing their city.
Review: The problem with movies about exorcism is that audience expectations are pretty much fixed, and there’s very little leeway for innovation or for a movie in the genre to feel fresh. However, one does not need to reinvent the wheel in order to deliver the goods, as exemplified by the excellent, old-school The Conjuring in 2013. While Deliver Us from Evil is a couple of rungs below The Conjuring, it does manage to deliver most of the goods. However, possibly in its efforts to not seem overly run of the mill, Deliver Us from Evil also incorporates a familial drama and a buddy cop setup, both of which do not fare as well as the horror and police procedural elements.
Eric Bana is a dependable actor and even though the material here isn’t the most challenging, his performance as Sarchie is perfectly acceptable. Edgar Ramirez is rather wasted in his role as the unconventional priest, which provides too little characterization to make him a believable character, and he ends up being essentially a generic caricature of a “maverick exorcist movie priest”. Joel McHale is an odd choice as Sarchie’s buddy cop, and once again because his character is so thinly written, the wiseass police officer ends up feeling like Joel McHale being himself, in between episodes of The Soup and Community. It could have been an inspired casting choice but the pairing just doesn’t work very well. The same can be said of Olivia Munn, who is given the thankless, dimensionless role of being the troubled sergeant’s wife.
I would have expected better from Scott Derrickson, who directed the far more disturbing Sinister and also The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but the scares for the first part of the film falls squarely into the “unexpected loud noises” and “animals jumping out from hidden places” categories. The second half fares better, but the exorcism sequence is about as run of the mill as it gets, almost as though Derrickson had a list in hand and checked off every clichéd sequence of every exorcism movie in cinematic history. I also have some issues with the cinematography, which is consistently dark and murky – understandable since Sarchie is a cop on the midnight beat, but surely some scenes could have had some additional sources of light apart from torch lights.
For a movie that’s purportedly based on a true story, much of Deliver Us from Evil feels too fantastical (yes, even for a movie about exorcism) to be grounded in reality. It also leaves several subplots unresolved and unexplained at the end, which can be frustrating since there’s obviously not going to be a sequel. However, it’s a decent horror film with reasonable production values, and the police procedural aspect is actually quite watchable, which is more than can be said of many horror films in recent years.
Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)