After drumming up decent business in the US at the start of July, Sinister director Scott Derrickson’s latest film, Deliver Us From Evil, is finally in UK cinemas.
Currently on the set of Sinister 2, before he heads off to direct Marvel’s Doctor Strange (and you won’t be surprised to hear that’s a movie that we couldn’t explore in this interview), he spared us time for a chat about what he’s done, and what he’s up to. Without further ado…
Welcome to the world of international staggered release dates! We get Deliver Us From Evil this week in the UK, whereas it had a July 4th weekend release in the US. It seems to me that it’s a more natural fit over here than there.
How much control do you get over the release of your films? And how much of a pat on the back did you take from Sony moving the release up to high summer over there?
The marketing of my movies is something I have no control over! I usually am shown things, to give input beforehand. Some directors get really involved with that, but it’s not what I do. I don’t know anything about marketing, it’s not my skill set!
What I know is that we were slated for next January , and then when Sony saw the movie… it tested higher than any film I’ve ever made. They saw the film, and they were so excited that they moved it to 4th of July weekend, which I thought sounded great at the time!
In retrospect? Summer dates lend themselves to a certain kind of horror film. They can do well in early to mid summer. But this is certainly a darker, creepier, noir-ish movie. So perhaps that wasn’t the best date for it, but we did okay.
Would you describe Deliver Us From Evil as a horror film? Because I’m not sure I would.
No, no, I definitely wouldn’t. Nor would the audience. When we did our test screening, that was one of the questions: is this a horror film, or more of a thriller? And it was unanimous that it was a thriller. Obviously, a supernatural thriller. It has horror elements, but if I had to say which way it leans, it certainly leans more towards thriller than horror.
I’ve read some of the responses to the film. There seems to be the painting of a target on your back by implying a true story. People tend to believe fictional stories and disbelieve non-fiction.
How do you approach that? Do you think there’s inevitable scepticism that comes with things that are said to be based around something ‘true’?
Well, yeah. Critics, reviewers and bloggers are a little tired of that. The criticism of my movie was incredibly lazy in my opinion. First of all because we didn’t say it was a true story. We didn’t say it was based on a story. We said it was inspired by true events, because it was! And there’s nothing about that that’s at all misleading. It would have been disingenuous to Ralph Sarchie, whose book I adapted, to leave that off the film completely. But I think critics and reviewers and bloggers need to take more responsibility for separating the way a movie is marketed from the movie that a filmmaker makes.
If they push the shit out of the marketing of this as a true story, that’s not my decision. It’s not what I would done, but I don’t really get involved in that. I really appreciate that Sony Pictures let me make the movie I wanted. And I trust them to market the movie in the way they think they should market it.
You can hear in my tone and my words an irritation in this. Reviewers and critics needs to not take films the way they’re marketed.
[We briefly chat about the UK poster for the film, which seems to imply the film is called ‘Devil’, but as we go over the same point, we’ll jump straight to…]
Watching the film, am I looking for things that aren’t there? There’s an Exorcist undercurrent, but you’ve also got a Cape Fear-esque walk straight into the camera moment, and I could swear there’s an audio reference or two to the Bioshock videogames. Am I going mad?
[Laughs] I love Cape Fear and I love Bioshock, but if I was drawing on them, it wasn’t consciously!
Worth a try!
You’ve talked in the past that with Sinister, you had 100% final cut on a film. You’d had a big blockbuster experience, with The Day The Earth Stood Still, and then had ultimately moved to something you could entirely control. Deliver Us From Evil has been in development a long time, but was there a conscious decision to move up slightly, knowing you’d sacrifice a little of that control as you did?
I think after The Day The Earth Stood Still, I really stopped thinking strategically about my career. I just did. At that point it became crystal clear to me that you can strategise your career all you want, but it’s so difficult to get a movie made, and creativity shouldn’t be subjected to that kind of strategic thinking. So I think instead, in my writing and producing and directing, I do what I think I should do creatively, and try to work on things that I would love to see.
And certainly, since that point, I’ve been in positions where I knew I was not going to be at creative odds with the people I was going to be working with. Sinister is the only thing I ever did where I had complete control over both the script and the film. Even before I wrote the script! It was greenlit before I wrote the script, so I knew going into it that there was nothing I couldn’t do, as long as it was a horror film. That’s a very rare position to be in.
With Deliver Us From Evil, it was very much the movie that I wanted to make.
When you’ve talked about The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, you said you were drawn to that project because you “could find no comfortable way to tell the story”. Was it the same idea here? Was the discomfort inherent in this story that drew you to it?
No, not at all. Emotionally I had very different feelings and motivations for doing the movie. In the case of Emily Rose, that case is so confounding that whatever perspective you take on it, you’re going to be left with big questions that are fundamentally unanswerable. It’s shrouded in complete mystery. It made me so uncomfortable, and I thought that would make a good part of the movie.
In the case of Deliver Us From Evil, it was more my interest and fascination with Ralph Sarchie, the real guy.
The character that Eric Bana plays, it’s funny, because the mixed response he’s got… I’d say probably more than half of the negative responses were about him being over the top. But he’s not. He’s playing the real guy. That’s who he is, in the same way that he played Chopper the way the real Chopper is.
To me it was an interesting guy. Broken and volatile, a really difficult guy, who was drawn into wanting to help people. The real Ralph Sarchie, he was working on the 46 Precinct, which the FBI called the most dangerous square mile in America. There’s more violence and crimes in this precinct than anywhere else in the country. And Sarchie was out there, every night undercover, stopping crime.
I just thought that guy himself was interesting. And also the genre blending. The fact that the story is a thriller, but it also has exorcisms, action, and it’s funny in places too. There’s a genre mishmash quality to it that I found invigorating. It was something that I certainly wanted to see.
I’m a huge Eric Bana fan, and I loved him in this. I think a lot of his work is underrated. His Hulk movie is one of my favourite comic book films.
I think that what he particularly deserves credit for is his ability to play these larger than life characters. Chopper and Ralph Sarchie… Black Hawk Down. These operatic characters, he can somehow play them in a way that feel real. Because he does his homework and prepares too. I just think he’s a great actor, and a terrific guy.
He did a Curtis Hanson film that I didn’t love, but loved him in it. Lucky You…
It was recently confirmed that you weren’t going to be making the Deus Ex movie that you’d been working on. How far down the road did you get with it? And was it your involvement with Doctor Strange that ended that?
It was getting involved in Doctor Strange.
We made really good progress on that script, and it’s an incredible property. The folks over at CBS Films hired myself and C Robert Cargill, I love them, they’re great people. It was a really positive process that was going on, and it was a little heartbreaking. Getting on Doctor Strange, this was the biggest downside of it. The fact that I needed to step off Deus Ex. I couldn’t expect them to wait for two years for me.
Appreciating that your next couple of years are making Doctor Strange, have you got plans beyond that, or is it one film at a time?
I’ve got other things that I’m doing and writing. But yeah, I have to put one foot in front of the other, especially when you’re talking about a movie that takes as much time as a Marvel movie.
Given that you’re a father, and with a love of horror films, are you tempted to try a horror movie for a younger audience? I think Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom is one of the best examples of this. Does that kind of thing hold any temptation for you? That you make a film that pushes a few buttons for a younger audience as well?
Yeah, it does. My kids are getting older now. They’re both boys they’re really starting to get interested in gothic storytelling, and they’ve always loved Halloween. My youngest was playing around in a Chucky costume two days ago! The full costume, the full outfit. They’ve not seen horror. They haven’t even seen a horror film for kids, they’re still a bit young for that. But I think that finding a piece of material for that pre-teen and early-teen audience in horror…?
They have seen Close Encounters, and Spielberg’s scene in there of the young boy being taken is harrowing. I feel the tension from them for that scene.
There really is a need for that kind of material that’s not aping the old Spielberg films, but is a kind of horror movie for kids that age. I would love to do something like that.
I’d love to see it. One last thing: I have to ask you what your favourite Jason Statham film is?
My favourite Jason Statham film? Oh God, that’s a great question. [Thinks] Oh, easy answer. By a long shot. The Bank Job. I’ve seen that film probably four times. An extraordinarily well made movie on every level. It’s soooo good.
Scott Derrickson, thank you very much.
Deliver Us From Evil is in UK cinemas now.
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