By Shane M. Dallmann
Director Scott Derrickson arrived on the scene with the compromised HELLRAISER: INFERNO, which needed Pinhead about as much as it needed a… er… pin in the head. The actual film was one of the very few pseudo-HELLRAISER sequels to prove actually worth watching on its own and established Derrickson as a specialist in “true crime” flavored horror.
His theatrical debut, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, was heavily criticized by those familiar with the actual details of the true-life case that inspired it–some went so far as to brand it a travesty. Point taken, so be it. As a fictionalized motion picture (which, of course, is exactly what it was), it was a powerful horror/courtroom thriller which treated both sides of the supernatural debate with equal weight.
And SINISTER sealed the deal as Ethan Hawke attempted to prove that the supernatural, of course, had nothing to do with the ghastly crimes he was eager to exploit in a book…
Now comes DELIVER US FROM EVIL, which first made itself known with a much-too-familiar title and a teaser trailer that made it look like the latest variant on PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (though, of course, “inspired by a true story”)–in fact, it was only the name “Scott Derrickson” that made me want to see it at first.
Well, P.A. it ain’t, and it’s not a “found footage” movie in the slightest, either. What the trailer did NOT tell you is that this “true story” (from the memoirs of NYPD officer Ralph Sarchie) is, on the surface, merely the latest re-take on that granddaddy known as THE EXORCIST, starting as it does with the uncovering of an evil force in Iraq and climaxing as it does with… an exorcism. However, DELIVER US FROM EVIL does NOT tell us the same story in between…
Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) has been enduring the worst of what humanity has to offer in his Bronx graveyard shift; but he presses on, getting what little enjoyment he can out of his banter with his partner Butler (Joel McHale), putting “the job” ahead of his wife and young daughter (Olivia Munn and Lulu Wilson), and employing his mysterious “radar” to direct him to the calls he knows he has to handle personally.
As our story opens, Sarchie encounters a string of violent acts which involve such linking elements as the frantic scratching of the floor, mysterious losses of power (including holy candlelight) and nastiness involving animals and children alike. The narrative quickly takes us to a terrific set piece in the Bronx Zoo, with only emergency lighting and night-vision goggles available to they officers when they try to track down a dangerous suspect…
…but let’s dispense with the details as much as possible. On paper, they’re either going to lead to spoilers or they’re simply going to sound much too familiar and do the film a disservice. Yes, Sarchie is a lapsed Catholic. And of course a Jesuit priest (Edgar Ramirez as Father Mendoza) is going to persist in dragging Sarchie’s latent faith to the surface even as the evil he’s uncovered threatens to reach out to Sarchie and his unwitting family. But the characters (never mind how true they are to either “real life” or Sarchie’s book–we are watching a MOVIE no matter what they tell us) remain engaging and share good chemistry throughout the film (“I’m N.A., not A.A.!”); the standard manifestations of possession are very cleverly blended with a generous sampling of songs by The Doors (not to mention the old classic “Pop Goes The Weasel”) in one of the best touches; and Derrickson maintains his knack for setting up disturbing, violent and frightening scenes and imagery without ever letting the pace slacken (remarkable for a film of this length in this day and age). So by the time we actually GET to the teaser scene with the ridiculously creepy stuffed owl… well, it’s pretty damn scary at that!
Who needs yet another exorcism movie? Well, substitute any horror trope you like for the word “exorcism” in that question. We keep coming back to this material because there’s a rich AND current history behind it, and because it works. DELIVER US FROM EVIL is a solid, effective shocker no matter what you think of from whence it sprang.
Oh, and opening it on the Fourth of July weekend was pretty much its death knell, so you’d better hurry. But really… REALLY? More people wanted to see TAMMY? Well… maybe it IS scarier… but I’ll never know.