Deliver us From Evil has the always excellent Eric Bana playing Sgt. Ralph Sarchie – described by Wikipedia as “a New York City street cop with a New Jersey accent who has put his faith in religion behind him, only to find himself entangled with the devil.” When one digs deeper into the story, which you will do if you encounter this film, it takes some of the Hollywood out of the story, but that’s ok, because as much as I was leaning against liking this cliché-filled entry into the horror/Exorcist genre, it has something very creepy about it, an artful creepiness that has eluded films of this nature for quite some time. It leaves enough up to the imagination and has a sizable helping of Perry Mason/Sherlock Holmes detective work to make the flaws almost irrelevant.
When 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and other teenage slasher films invaded the horror genre that once had Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and its thinking-man’s drama ruling the roost, it was akin to rap sounds coming in and dismantling the rock and roll art form. 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, William Friedkin’s 1973 epic – The Exorcist – and the Stephen Spielberg co-scripted Poltergeist (the 1982 film originally directed by Chainsaw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper, only to be replaced by Spielberg himself according to IMDB which states “despite some differences that were resolved by Spielberg himself taking over Hooper’s directing duties”) brought the psychological thriller back to life in a big way.
Yes you will feel moments of The Exorcist meeting Poltergeist here, thirty-seven year old director Scott Derrickson made a fortune with his The Exorcism of Emily Rose back in 2005. An interesting flick in that it was also based – purportedly – on a real-life story and recalled Laura Linney to the bench after she faced off against Richard Gere in the 1996 Psycho drama Primal Fear (paired up with Gere again in 2002 for yet another psychological thriller,The Mothman Prophecies, of course.) We can dicker about Derrickson, but the dude makes money. His slasher flick, Sinister, brought in almost 88 million on a 3 million dollar budget, and though The Day The Earth Stood Still, also directed by Derrickson, made 233 mill on an 80 million dollar budget, there were flaws that kept that almost-but-not-quite from being the classic it could have been. Specifically, not enough time for the great chemistry between Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) and Professor Karl Barnhardt (John Cleese) Here, in Deliver us From Evil, Derrickson commits the same error or situation. Bana, like Reeves, becomes the central figure and it tends to drive the viewer batty as the “going solo” pumps up the Sgt. Sarchie character at the expense of believability. Too many scenes where Sarchie needs back-up – they know the situation is dangerous, tense and unpredictable and they turn an ordinary cop into …Ssssssschwarzenegger
But, and here’s the key exception to the rule – as an impressionable 11 year old watching Ursulla Andress in She, the successful Hammer film epic of 1965, has a moment where Andress as Ayesha can make the audience jump out of its seat, as me and my childhood friend both did simultaneously.
Deliver Us From Evil has a few of those “jump out of the seat” moments, and they are worth the admission fee to the film. They are, of course, offset by actor Bana getting the double whammy, as annoyed by his wife here, Mrs. Jen Sarchie (Olivia Munn,) as he was by Clare (Rachel McAdams) in The Time Travelers Wife in 2008/2009. It’s a bit much and the female histrionics, and Ralph Sarchie’s responses (as were Henry DeTamble’s in the Time Travelers Wife, but at least he had an excuse.)
However the plot is pretty decent, incantations and demonic spirits from some cave in a war zone overseas come back to haunt New York City and a rogue priest who had a heroin addiction in Boston comes to pair up with Sgt. Sarchie to save the day. The priest, Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) is seen in the film as more of a partner than Sarchie’s actual cop partner, Butler (Joel McHale), and it is the lack of teamwork that is used to build the tense moments. Kind of bothersome (see Keanu Reeves/John Cleese above) but, despite some cloying moments, and this is what surprised me, I came away liking the film and the experience. All things being equal, rife with flaws and cliché, Deliver Us From Evil (at least the fourth film with that title) has that intangible and is worth a visit to the theater for.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.