Mark Reviews Movies

Deliver Us from Evil (2014)


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Scott Derrickson

Cast: Eric Bana, Édgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale, Sean Harris, Chris Coy, Olivia Horton, Lulu Wilson

MPAA Rating: R (for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout, and language)

Running Time:  

Release Date: 7/2/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 2, 2014

Deliver Us from Evil puts forward a rather simple explanation for the existence of a ritual for exorcism, with an emphasis on "ritual": Demons are staunchly predictable. The climactic exorcism of this movie has the priest not only performing the rite but also providing his unlikely second with a step-by-step outline of what the demon is doing and what it will do next. The priest knows when the foul entity is only pretending to be vanquished because, apparently, he's only completed step one of the process, and by step three, he knows that the demon is getting ready to tell them its name.

Perhaps this is also the reason that so many movies concerning demonic possession start to bleed together in terms of what they present and how they show it. Many of them—including this one—claim to be based on real events, so maybe it's unfair to level criticism against these movies because they are predictable. If demons are real (a highly unlikely proposition), we are simply seeing the same elements and plot points in movies about possession over and over again because these entities are not only evil spirits but also creatures of habit. Can we fault a zebra for its stripes or, better, a movie featuring a zebra for portraying it with stripes?

As it turns out, the question isn't too important in the case of this movie, which obviously gives us everything we expect from a demonic possession. There are gruesome scenes of possessed people inflicting harm on others and themselves (These demons seem particularly bite-happy). There are the usual pale faces and wretched complexions of the possessed. There are mysterious writings and utterances in Latin—with a dash of Persian here. There are unexplained sounds coming through walls, floors, and doors.

Then, of course, there is the aforementioned exorcism, which director Scott Derrickson and cinematographer Scott Kevan shoot with a jittery camera and layers of strobe lights, as a cacophony of shouted prayers, unnatural screeches, and general rumbling fills the soundtrack. We know these scenes and moments are inevitable, but there's something else going on in between the usual hocus pocus that keeps us involved.

The story focuses on New York City police officer named Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), and the movie assures us that the screenplay by Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman based on "actual accounts" of the real of Sarchie (who co-wrote a book on the subject with Lisa Collier Cool). Ralph has been a religious skeptic for decades, but he's only become one toward humanity since taking the job. It has put a great emotional distance between himself and his wife Jen (Olivia Munn) and daughter Christina (Lulu Wilson).

The movie opens with him discovering a dead baby in an alleyway, and for a good period of time, it sticks with an understanding that the evil of the world is a product of humanity. Ralph and his partner Butler (Joel McHale) respond to a domestic disturbance, hoping to be able to exact punishment on a man beating his wife. Later, they respond to a call at the Bronx Zoo, where a mother has thrown her child into the lions' den.

These later crimes are not a case of human wickedness but of spiritual evil, or so says Father Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez), an "undercover" Jesuit priest who specializes in demonology and believes that at least one of the participants in one of Ralph's cases is possessed. There are two types evil, he argues: secondary, which is the result of human behavior, and primary, which shows itself in the workings of demons.

Ralph, of course, doubts the latter but grows in faith after having direct confrontations with the darker side of the coin of religious belief. To his credit, Mendoza does try to make the argument for the side of good, pointing out that a higher power might work through those who believe in helping their fellow man/woman. The conversation between the two men shows that the movie—despite the familiar elements it presents—is at least actively thinking about the theological underpinnings of this material. There's a much smarter movie hiding somewhere in the shadows—one that lets this debate extend beyond a single scene and doesn't take the influence of spiritual forces as a given.

Instead, Ralph has something of a gift for detecting demonic presences, although he repeatedly fails to detect the barrage of sudden startles throughout the movie. Something or someone pops into frame quite regularly, accompanied by a sudden burst on the soundtrack. It's unfortunate that the movie employs such cheap scare tactics, especially considering how well Derrickson and Kevan use the locales. Every location, save for the hero's home, is decrepit and dimly lit (Here, one of the side effects of demons is that electricity fails). Slime puddles on floors, and roaches crawl hither and thither. It's a nightmarish version of reality, illuminated in spurts by flashlights and flickering bulbs.

There are many things to admire in Deliver Us from Evil, which makes the movie's reliance on standard and exhausted genre practices all the more disappointing. What's missing is a healthy dose of skepticism—of the material and of traditional horror techniques.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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