Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Movie Review: Deliver Us From Evil

Deliver Us From Evil
Directed by: Scott Derrickson.
Written by: Scott Derrickson  & Paul Harris Boardman based on the book by Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool.
Starring: Eric Bana (Sarchie), Édgar Ramírez (Mendoza), Olivia Munn (Jen), Chris Coy (Jimmy), Dorian Missick (Gordon), Sean Harris (Santino), Joel McHale (Butler), Mike Houston (Nadler), Lulu Wilson (Christina), Olivia Horton (Jane), Scott Johnsen (Lt. Griggs).

There have been a lot of movies over the years about demonic possession. Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) are certainly two of the most influential films in cinema history – as we get multiple retreads every year that try, and fail, to tap into that same primal terror. Last summer’s The Conjuring is probably as good of a “copy” of these films as is possible to make. This summer’s Deliver Us From Evil is more like the vast majority of demonic possession movies – pretty much instantly forgettable. Directed by Scott Derrickson, Deliver Us from Evil is a well-made film, following its paint by numbers approach well, and trying to provide old school horror movies thrills – slowly building up the suspense before it really delivers the goods. It isn’t a particularly good horror film – but it’s not a bad one either. It gets the job done – I just wish it tried a little harder.

In the film, Eric Bana stars as Detective Sarchie – an NYPD Detective who seems to have a sixth sense for guessing what calls are going to be worse than others. This delights his partner – Butler (Joel McHale) – an adrenaline junkie, who likes working with Sarchie, because it guarantees him a lot of action. Sarchie has one of these hunches when a domestic disturbance call comes in. They arrive at the house, and find Iraq war veteran Jimmy (Chris Coy) has gone crazy, beaten his wife, and is just acting strange. He gets more feelings, which leads him to a strange search at the Bronx zoo for a war who threw her son into the lion pit (fortunately, the lions weren’t there at the time) – and the seemingly crazy call from Italian immigrants who think they hear something in their basement. The more he investigates the resulting cases, they more they become connected. He meets Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) – a Jesuit priest, who thinks there is something weird, and wants to help. Meanwhile his wife, Jen (Olivia Munn) – is getting frustrated with him as he spends too much time on the job, and not enough with her and their daughter.

You can probably guess where this is going – and you’re right, You don’t have a Jesuit priest in your movie unless there is eventually going to an exorcism, and lots of demonic activity. You don’t make a point of the fact that your lead character is a lapsed Catholic, unless he is eventually going to have his faith restored. These cops don’t have wives and kids who have anything interesting to do in the movie except whine to the main character, and eventually get themselves into a situation where they need to be saved. Deliver Us From Evil dutifully sets up all of these plots elements, and just as dutifully knocks them down again,

Derrickson has directed horror movies before – the decent The Exorcism of Emily Rose (another knockoff of the aforementioned The Exorcist) as well as Sinister with Ethan Hawke – which I missed, but did get some surprisingly strong reviews. He knows how to construct a horror movie, and he does it here with efficiency. I liked the visual look of the film – that although the film takes place in the years between 2010 and 2013 – seems to have a color palette more suitable for a 1970s film. He doesn’t do anything new in the film, but what he does he does with skill.

There is nothing really wrong with Deliver Us From Evil. It does pretty much what it sets out to do. But I’ve seen a few too many films over the years that have little on their mind other than to repeat what Polanski and Friedkin made new and original. It takes a film as special, as well made, well-acted and genuinely frightening as The Conjuring to make me stand up and take notice. Deliver Us from Evil doesn’t do that. By this time next year, I doubt I’ll even remember which film about which demon with which priest and which non-believer this one is. There’s so many that just starts running together after a while.

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