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Non-Review Review: Deliver Us From Evil

Deliver Us From Evil is a film where ambition seems to outpace ability. A wonderfully surreal blend of cop action movie with exorcism horror, the movie manages to score a few clever juxtapositions – even if it never seems to decide whether it’s gloweringly serious or wryly ironic. While Deliver Us From Evil never finds the right balance of po-faced gravitas and witty self-awareness, it is a surprisingly enjoyable ride.

After all, it is very hard to hate a film where a demonic presence seeks to establish itself upon the world using the music of The Doors as a recurring motif.

The writing's on the wall...

The writing’s on the wall…

The idea of merging a police thriller with a straight-up horror is intriguing. Deliver Us From Evil doesn’t necessarily find the perfect balance, but it does have a great deal of fun creating a hybrid. After all, the two genres contrast rather elegantly while still providing points of overlap. It is a pairing that seems almost as ambitious as the union of legal procedural and supernatural horror that made The Exorcism of Emily Rose such a delight.

Cop thrillers tend to be grounded in the modern inner city, with pressing day-to-day concerns, while exorcism films typically see our heroes confronting demons with mystical powers and histories that inevitably span decades or centuries. With law enforcement operating within a world of rigidly defined procedures and rules, with burdens of proof and scientific evidence-gathering, they would seem to exist at odds with the more ethereal world inhabited by ghost-hunters or exorcists.

Talk about a bloody mess...

Talk about a bloody mess…

Then again, perhaps the genres are not as radically different as they may initially appear. Both types of stories typically centre around damaged protagonists fighting against impossible and almost abstract forces to protect the innocent lives caught in the crossfire. Sure, cops may confront gangsters or drug dealers, but these usually stand in for larger concerns. It could be argued that demons and ghosts tap into the same fears as urban decay and social injustice – evil forces bigger than individuals.

Deliver Us From Evil plays with these associations. As one might expect, the movie’s unlikely buddy partnership is a gritty and angry street cop trying to protect his family, and a seasoned street-smart priest with previous experience of the horrors haunting this narrative. The movie shrewdly decides not to resist the magnetic forces at play. There’s an endearing efficiency to the way the plot works, moving quickly to line everything up.

"The power of cross-genre film-making compels you!"

“The power of cross-genre film-making compels you!”

Detective Sarchie is introduced with a partner, sarcastic adrenaline junkie Detective Butler. However, as soon as Father Mendoza shows up, Butler is quickly sidelined and brushed out of the way – it is made clear that the movie will be driven by Sarchie and Mendoza. Joel McHale is charming as Butler, and appears to have muscled up considerably for the role, but Deliver Us From Evil makes it quite clear early on that Butler is just saving a space on Sarchie’s dance card for Mendoza.

Similarly, the plot doesn’t even try to convince the audience that Sarchie is stumbling on all of this demonic activity by coincidence. Sarchie admits to having a “radar” that conveniently points him in the direction the plot needs to go – it’s a very clean way of justifying what might otherwise seem contrived, as Sarchie happens upon a number of cases that inevitably form part of a much larger (and more sinister) whole.

A cut above...

A cut above…

It’s difficult to tell how much of Deliver Us From Evil is intended as knowing irony, and how much is played awkwardly serious. The film pauses to acknowledge the stock horror tropes, even as it plays into them. “Boy,” Butler notes as the duo stalk through the Bronx Zoo, “this place sure is creepy after hours.” Without missing a beat, Sarchie jumps right into the expected horror cliché. “We should split up.”

Later, as Butler tries to run to the rescue during a tense showdown, he finds a convenient cabinet preventing him from intervening in one of Sarchie’s bigger moments. “Are you f$%@in’ kidding me?” Butler laments, clearing having watched enough horror movies to know that this sort of thing is all but expected at big moments. There is a sense of sly self-awareness present throughout the film, and it is quite endearing – as if to emphasise that Deliver Us From Evil is aware its own absurdity.

I always feel like, somebody's watching me...

I always feel like, somebody’s watching me…

That said, the movie does run into problems when it tries to play things seriously. Inevitable, Sarchie has a troubling confession to make about his past, which writer and director Scott Derrickson films in the style a gritty seventies police film, despite the fact it appears to have unfolded in the middle of the last decade. “Since that day,” Sarchie admits, “there’s been a darkness growin’ inside of me like a cancer.” The horrific sequence is hard to take seriously when it features a character called “Marvin the Molester.”

There are other examples. Deliver Us From Evil struggles to find the proper balance between wry self-awareness and grim sincerity. Sarchie has a truly horrible job, and has seen some truly horrible things. However, the movie chooses to have Sarchie deliver an angry and bitter monologue about them after making his daughter run upstairs crying. Eric Bana does quite well in the role of Sarchie, but he can’t stop moments like that from feeling like overblown ham instead of moving tragedy.

Fair cop...

Fair cop…

Occasionally, the movie does feel a little bit like it’s trying too hard to hammer home its themes about good and evil. At one point, Mendoza takes Sarchie to a firefighters’ bar in order to prove that good must exist in human nature alongside evil. Sarchie’s family feel like they were ordered wholesale from a two-dimensional character emporium. It’s very easy to chart Sarchie’s character arc at any given moment in the film, right down to the “gets angry and scares his daughter” scene.

At the same time, it seems like Deliver Us From Evil never quite manages to make its themes concerning “infectious evil” work as well as they might. Much like Sinister before it, Deliver Us From Evil presents a self-perpetuating and sustaining evil. Here, merely reading a combination of words written in Persian and Latin is enough to drive people to horrible actions. Sarchie himself finds himself cut and bitten repeatedly, with Sarchie himself evoking infection by suggesting he needs to be screened for HIV. The evil forces plead, “Let us in.”

Inner demons...

Inner demons…

It is made clear that Sarchie’s job takes its toll on his family. However, Deliver Us From Evil never quite makes sense of it all – it suggests that Sarchie will face horror no matter what he does. Indeed, the character’s most questionable action – the point where he was most corrupted or “infected” by evil – occurred long before the film itself. Why would Sarchie be given a “radar” if it simply made him more susceptible to infection? If it does, why is the decision made at the end of the film objectively better for him?

Still, there is a great deal of fun to be had when Deliver Us From Evil does play with the conventions of its two parent genres. Towards the climax, Sarchie receives the inevitable “I’ve got hostages!” phonecall that one expects from any half-decent cop thriller (“Santini, are you at my house?!”), but there’s something wonderfully bizarre about having a sinister otherworldly demon make that phonecall.

Dire strait(jacket)s...

Dire strait(jacket)s…

There’s also a delightful “police movie slow motion arrest sequence” of a character who looks like he wandered out of a horror film, cleverly juxtaposing the movie’s two genres. Other highlights of this mish-mash approach to the horror and cop movie genres include an improvised exorcism in an interrogation room, and a rapid-fire quick-cut axe/knife fight against a demon in a dimly-lit stairwell as the lights flicker on and off.

Deliver Us From Evil doesn’t always work as well as it might. However, there are some great ideas here, and a lot of ambition. It’s a film that demonstrates considerable literacy when it comes to classic cinema genres, and one which blends two very different genres with confidence and (mostly) success. Deliver Us From Evil is not a perfect film by any measure, but it is an interesting one.

4 Responses

  1. Again thank you. When are you going to do Divergent.AND WHEN SNOWPIERCER!!!!Read mine please.

    • Hi!

      Haven’t seen Snowpiercer yet, although you did find my Divergent review. Snowpiercer is on the list, having heard nothing but good things about it. Have you seen it?

  2. I still want to see this for some reason. I guess I just may be a sucker for horrible looking horror movies haha. Great review.

    • I quite like the horror genre. I mean, there is a lot of crap, and it’s harder to get right than anything except maybe comedy, but I adore a good scare, and I’m willing to forgive a lot. And while Deliver Us From Evil is too disjointed to be good, it is intriguing in places.

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