DELIVER US FROM EVIL
Deliver Us From Evil not to be confused with the fine Danish thriller Deliver Us From Evil (2009) does little to impress. The true life possession and exorcism story has been conducted by a number of other films over the last few years, most of these taking their lead from the success of Emily Rose see the likes of Possessed (2000), Blackwater Valley Exorcism (2006), The Rite (2011), The Possession (2012), The Conjuring (2013) and The Crucifixion (2017). Deliver Us From Evil is based on the true-life experiences of Ralph Sarchie who spent twenty years on the NYPD in the Bronxs 46th Precinct. During the 1990s, Sarchie became convinced of the reality of demonic powrs and became a practicing exorcist, leaving the force to do so full time in 2004. He published a book Beware the Night (2001), co-written with Lisa Collier Cool, about his experiences. Scott Derrickson met with Sarchie in the early 2000s and it was reportedly Sarchie who turned him onto the case of Annelise Michel that became the basis of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. After taking a drubbing for his fictionalisation of the Annelise Michel story, the credits for Deliver Us From Evil merely note that it is inspired by the experiences of Ralph Sarchie Derrickson incorporated some of the happenings recounted in Sarchies book but essentially invented the connecting narrative about Mick Santino.
Sarchie claims to be a Traditionalist Catholic (one who rejects the liberalisations of the Second Vatican Council and prefers the Latin Mass among other things). I dont hold Sarchies beliefs against him but I dispute the existence of demons something that it should be pointed out is only very sketchily introduced in The Bible and where most modern religious thinking on possession is no more about cliches derived from The Exorcist (1973). Even then, I am still unconvinced that there is anything other than mental illness, let alone that Roman liturgy and an organisation as chequered and as rigidly dogmatic as the Catholic Church would be designated the front line of defence against such forces. Sarchie is welcome to believe otherwise but what is not apparent from his book is anything that comes out and clearly makes his case. As surely proof of Sarchies lack of theological credibility, look no further than his certainty that the Amityville Horror was real (when in fact it was a later proven hoax); that The Necronomicon is a text among demonologists (when in fact it was an invention of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft); and that he himself wields a shard of the True Cross as a weapon against evil forces.
As it opened, I felt immediately disappointed with Deliver Us From Evil. Scott Derricksons style seems all appropriated brooding imagery perpetually rain-field night skies, loud ominous thrumming effects pounding on the soundtrack, flickering half-lights and bulbs that are as dim as possible if not constantly blowing out. For someone who is an evangelical Christian and takes the idea of demonic possession seriously, Derricksons depiction of possession, exorcism and deviltry is all frustratingly cliched B-movie standard people with disfigured features conducting unusual contortions of the body or talking in croaking voices, foreign languages and cryptic phrases (for some reason, the demonic forces seem hung up on The Doors), ritual incantations in Latin, levitations, sinister figures in Goth makeup. Not to mention lots of tiresome fake jump effects faces leering out of video screens, cats making very un-cat-like hisses and screams and so on. In its first hour, Deliver Us From Evil slips into a tedium in this regard. We feel like we have seen everything before and that Derrickson is drawing overly familiar material out into the overinflated.
But then surprise me if Deliver Us From Evil doesnt suddenly get interesting and moreover for the very reasons that made The Exorcism of Emily Rose dull, the point when Derrickson starts delving into matters of Christian faith. I dont believe but I dont disparage Scott Derrickson his faith. What does bug me about his films though is how I keep waiting for him to stop rehashing horror cliches and parse through the material to find something that is personal to him. This finally occurs here about two-thirds of the way through the film where Edgar Ramirezs priest starts explaining faith to Eric Bana. Ramirez gives a handsome and charismatic performance in the part that proves rather captivating, especially in the way his character defies what we expect of a priest and is shown to be both worldly and with a colourful past. The film then becomes one where Eric Bana undergoes a well-worn character arc that goes all the way back to The Exorcist the non- or lapsed believer who is persuaded of the reality of the supernatural by what he must deal with first hand. This is nothing too unusual, indeed is fairly much the same story path that The Exorcism of Emily Rose took, and yet Eric Bana inhabits the central role with a lean and physically focused presence.
The writing of the various discussions on matters of faith is strong enough that it makes you sit and watch you feel like Scott Derrickson has stopped regurgitating cliches and is trying to explain matters real to him and does so in often persuasive terms that the general audience can grasp. These sections move beyond the cliche claptrap of dull scares and Deliver Us From Evil sort of becomes a Se7en (1995) by way of The Exorcist wherein a detective in a grimy, dimly lit inner city area must face an enemy that forces him to confront spiritual morality, eventually culminating in the nemesis making an attack on his own family. Not to mention that Derrickson gets everything together for a barnstormer of a climactic exorcism that throws in all the bags of tricks contortions, croaking voices, threats, psychological taunting, even physical storms inside the room with highly entertaining regard.