By Simon Miraudo
July 21, 2014
Deliver Us From Evil is this year’s exorcism movie. (Hollywood is considerate in few ways, but at least it knows to spread these things out every twelve months.) To spare us from boredom, writer-director Scott Derrickson adds the crinkle of it also being a police-on-the-beat movie, with Eric Bana acting as a Bronx detective who can no longer rationally explain the ungodly crimes he keeps happening upon. His character, Ralph Sarchie, is based on the real-life ex-cop who encountered such supernatural goings on and literally wrote the book on the subject. Sarchie’s a self-proclaimed “Demonologist” these days, which is one of those job titles people make up for themselves and hope no one asks for any credentials.
This being a cop flick, Bana’s Sarchie is paired with a buddy. Two in fact, the first played by Joel McHale and the second, Edgar Ramirez. Do I need to tell you which partner spends most of the flick cracking wise? Ramirez, on the other hand, depicts a brooding, badass Jesuit priest (aren’t they all?) with a personal investment in Sarchie’s latest case: a woman who, seemingly under the spell of a mysterious hooded figure, threw her child into the lion pit of the Bronx Zoo and subsequently devolved into a feral, Linda Blair-esque, scratchy-voiced shell of a woman. Anyone who’s seen a motion picture before can tell she’s possessed. It takes Deliver Us From Evil more than 100 minutes to get to that conclusion, and then spends the final eighteen minutes exorcising someone else completely.
The exorcism is this genre’s equivalent of a money shot, so it better count, especially after two hours of pent-up audience aggression. It mostly does here, arriving in all its Earth-shaking, God-cursing glory. Still, making us endure all that preamble is nearly unforgivable. These features can barely survive more than seventy-minutes of our suspended disbelief. Not even the steady flow of jump scares, crucified cat-sightings or unprovoked arm-bitings (of which there are many) make Deliver Us From Evil worth the extended wait.
If Sarchie’s very familiar arc (he also has a nagging wife, played by Olivia Munn, and a neglected daughter too) is watchable at all, it’s because of Bana, a far more talented actor than the likes who usually anchor flicks of this ilk. Scott Derrickson is also working hard for his paycheck. His is only a serviceable script (co-written by Paul Harris Boardman), however, it’s delivered with some visual panache. All that said, the real saviours are the sound designers, who might very well be prodding spirits and the undead to get the inhuman screeches they achieve here. Deliver Us From Evil is very loud, which is maybe the kind of criticism you’d expect from a doddering old reviewer who is no longer able to discern any of a film’s other qualities, yet I can only report on what I walked away thinking most, and what I was thinking most, was: “That was loud.” Deliver Us From Evil may indeed be a marvel of sound design, but it’s otherwise three miracles short of a canonisation.
Deliver Us From Evil arrives in cinemas July 24, 2014.