Director Scott Derrickson likes his horror movies. His latest film, Deliver Us From Evil, isn’t strictly an outright horror, yet it builds on his success with Sinister, and makes unhidden gesticulations in the direction of The Exorcist for a start. But this isn’t a tribute act, as instead, he’s uncovered a story inspired by a real life account, which he’s subsequently shaped into an interesting, bumpy, but generally effective piece of cinema.
It centres on Eric Bana’s Sergeant Ralph Sarchie, a New York cop who’s had his fair share of dark days. Married to the job, but with a wife and child back home, Sarchie finds himself called to investigate an event you could best describe as not normal. Along with his partner, played by Community‘s Joel McHale, he encounters something that seems to be more than bordering on the paranormal and unexplained.
The film’s billed more a supernatural thriller rather than a horror movie, and that’s probably right. It’s a piece of work of several parts in truth, with the focus moving between a troubled family life, a police procedural, and issues of possession. The joins are sometimes visible, and some parts of Deliver Us From Evil work better than others. But Derrickson remains a sure hand behind the camera, and even though the film is held together loosely at times, he does keep the momentum going.
Furthermore, he delivers a couple of excellent jumps, and a sense of discomfort for good parts of the movie. On the less positive side, it’s a shame that Olivia Munn gets shortchanged in the role of Sarchie’s wife, though, as when the focus switches to her and their daughter, Deliver Us From Evil hasn’t laid enough groundwork to make these moments really count as they perhaps should.
Also, the film is based on the account of the real Ralph Sarchie, and that means, whilst not strictly a true story, the film does have its roots in one. It’s to the peril sometimes of films to base themselves somewhere around real events, as that does make some events a little harder to buy than others (whereas we tend to accept them as given in strictly fictional stories). There are moments like that in Deliver Us From Evil, too, although Derrickson does use some of these to really quite strong effect. A zoo sequence in particular works really rather well.
What’s more, when it hits its core, Deliver Us From Evil gets particularly interesting. For the film pairs Sarchie with Edgar Ramirez’s priest, Mendoza, uniting a man of faith and a man with none, who are then forced to come together to uncover and resolve just what’s going on. As the film hits its final third, and its horror stripes come through, it’s at its most effective too, not least a strong scene at the end that boasts some excellent work from Sean Harris. If you’re ever looking for an actor to utterly commit to a moment, Harris is your man.
It’s to Derrickson’s credit as well that a film where Bana has to deal with his anger doesn’t leave half the audience expecting him to turn green any second. In fact, Bana’s performance is strong, and grounds the film extremely well. It’s surprising that Bana continues to be such an underappreciated actor, and his transformation here from a hard as nails cop in a hard as nails environment to something a little different is well done.
Deliver Us From Evil is an ambitious piece of work, with lots of interesting strands to pick on. If it’s got a problem at its heart, it’s that it tries to do too much, and in doing so, it inevitably dilutes some of what it’s trying to do. Yet it’s well directed, well made, nicely performed, and works hard to give you a good night out in exchange for your admission price.
And it also features zoo animals.
Deliver Us From Evil is out in UK cinemas on the 22nd August.
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