Directed By: Scott Derrickson
Written By: Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris Boardman
Starring: Eric Bana, Édgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn
Sometimes it can be easy to dismiss a horror film simply based on the premise. By now we have seen nearly every type or person and inanimate object possessed by some sort of demon or demonic presence. However, all genres are just as guilty of sticking with stereotypical tropes. The key is how those tropes are executed. Director Scott Derrickson’s latest film Deliver Us From Evil is far from groundbreaking, but it at least subverts expectations enough to create something worth watching.
In many ways Deliver Us From Evil is a crime drama with a few occasional supernatural elements. Eric Bana plays Sarchie, a veteran police officer with a special talent for solving disturbing crimes. His partner, played by Joel McHale (who surprisingly works great as this army veteran turned police officer), calls it his radar and he takes full advantage of it in order to fulfill his adrenaline junkie needs. This radar leads them to investigate a series crimes that become harder and harder to explain; a once stable women trying to kill her son at the local zoo, a family complaining about supernatural forces at their home, and bizarre painter who appears at all the wrong places at all the right times. Sarchie has dealt with the evil side of humanity a great deal, but this time he is facing primary evil not of this world.
One aspect of Deliver Us From Evil got right that many other similar films get wrong is the mystery here is actually compelling to a certain degree. More importantly it is what is driving the story, instead of just forcefully manufacturing opportunities for jump scares. In fact many horror fans may be disappointed with the lack of scares here. More concentration is placed on the character of Sarchie and his battle with his own personal demons than creating a moody atmosphere.
Sarchie has all the problems you would associate with a man trying to joggling his job as a police officer with his life of a family man. His long hours make it a struggle to find time with his family and when he is home he is not really there. These latest strange cases have made things worse as past issues he thought he got over are now returning. He soon learns with the help of an unorthodox priest (Edgar Ramirez) that all these elements, including his supposed radar, are more connected then he is willing to admit.
Unfortunately the mystery that is built up is met with a rather unsatisfying conclusion. Answering interesting questions became secondary to following the normal tropes of the genre. How it handled those tropes were mixed. The main antagonist was far too cartoonish at times appearing to be part demon, part ninja, and part Batman—a combination that could work for a comic book movie but not necessarily a serious thriller. Other tropes work much better. The amount of exorcisms that have appeared on screen are probably uncountable by this point, and the exorcism here is on the better half of all those occasions. For one it had legitimate stakes that made it more than just a tired exercise, and its structure went beyond flying objects and spinning heads.
Deliver Us From Evil is far from this summer’s version of The Conjuring—a film that reminded the world how terrifying horror films are when they are well made. Still, its superior to other cannon fodder possession films that are void of new ideas. The cast here is full of strong actors including the aforementioned Eric Bana and Joel McHale. Their presence no doubt elevates this material that in fairness does not need a great amount of elevating. Deliver Us From Evil knows the game it is playing and it plays it well.