Horror movie fans that are looking for traditional paranormal suspense and jump scares will probably find that Deliver Us From Evil offers more drama than demonic thrills.
In Deliver Us From Evil, Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is a family man and police sergeant in New York City - assigned to the Special Operations division. Known for a keen "radar," Sarchie along with his partner, Butler (Joel McHale), take-on the precinct's toughest and most disturbing cases. However, when a pair of seemingly random investigations turn-up shared (though unexplainable) connections, Sarchie is forced to accept that some evil deeds may not be perpetrated by humans; instead, they are the handiwork of malevolent spirits.
A "recovering" Catholic, Sarchie is reluctant to accept that the supernatural tales of his childhood might be real - until he is befriended by a mysterious Catholic Priest, Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez), who claims to have been hunting demons (and performing exorcisms) for years. Together the pair attempt to unravel the source behind a series of disturbing crimes - before an ancient evil can take hold in the city streets.
Deliver Us From Evil is based on the investigations of the real life Ralph Sarchie, an NYPD officer turned demonologist, that chronicled his investigations and exorcisms in the book Beware the Night (coauthored by Lisa Collier Cool). Directed by future Doctor Strange helmer Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), the film serves as an "origin" story (of sorts) for Sarchie's career in demon hunting. For that reason, the movie attempts to strike a balance between true crime and paranormal thriller - ultimately delivering an intriguing character story, with gripping moments of grotesque horror, that is short on actual scares. Derrickson assembles a captivating world and fills it with smart variations on exorcism subgenre staples; yet, in spite of its premise, Deliver Us From Evil isn't outright scary - meaning that viewers who want to be terrified will likely walk away underwhelmed.
Still, the core story and its depiction of supernatural mythology is captivating - especially since Sarchie's journey from a close-minded police sergeant to a penitent believer, capable of standing face-to-face with demons (and other ancient evils), is grounded by adherence to the true crime genre. Even though Deliver Us From Evil contains paranormal elements, Derrickson unravels the film's mysteries with careful patience - ensuring that revelations come through plausible investigation; instead of shock value or forced coincidence. As with any exorcism movie, suspension of disbelief will be required but Derrickson advances the plot into darkness with a subtle and restrained hand - albeit a hand that might be slightly too subtle and restrained for those expecting a stock horror movie.
Fortunately, for filmgoers who are open to a true crime story that includes demonic possession, a decayed visual aesthetic and authentic performances combine for a unique viewing experience - with a relatable turn from Bana in the lead role. Certain moviegoers might roll their eyes at the "true life" accounts of Sarchie the demonologist but Bana and Derrickson present the man with a very straight face in this big screen adaptation. In fact, while malicious demons are a selling point for the film, Deliver Us From Evil is most interested in examining how regular people attempt to suppress their own personal demons: vengeance, drug addiction, or depression, among others - with Sarchie front and center, struggling to find God amidst the evil actions of murderers, child molesters, and rapists in New York City.
To that end, Bana is affecting as the tough New York cop whose beliefs are turned upside down - forced to reconsider the world as he previously understood it. Deliver Us From Evil isn't the actor's most demanding role but his talents aren't wasted either, since Sarchie is tasked with multiple layers - all set against dialogue and exposition that, in the hands of a less accomplished performer, could have been eye-rolling instead of impactful.
Similarly, Édgar Ramírez is a standout as Mendoza - successfully dispatching mouthfuls of dense exposition on heavy subjects including demonology, spirituality, and atonement. Derrickson also ensures that Mendoza isn't a flat archetype, providing the character vices and fallibilities that differentiate him from stock priest caricatures. Sarchie might be the lead character but in many ways, Mendoza (and Ramírez), is the main attraction.
Rounding out the supporting cast, Olivia Munn and Joel McHale are solid in their roles - as the emotional touchstone and comedy relief, respectively. Munn isn't given much to work with outside a pretty basic loving/concerned wife arc but, as indicated, her scenes are instrumental in understanding Sarchie (and his troubles). McHale is challenged with injecting humor (as well as some machismo) into an otherwise dreary portrayal of New York City life and, even though he struggles to differentiate the part from other notable roles in his filmography, the Butler character is still a welcome addition.
Sean Harris spends the majority of the film hidden underneath a hood but his portrayal of possessed soldier, Santino, looms over the entire storyline - instilling mystery and foreboding even in scenes where the character isn't even present. Yet, it is Harris and Derrickson's combined efforts in the third act, as performer and director, that will haunt moviegoers long after they are finished watching Deliver Us From Evil. Cinephiles have seen countless exorcisms represented on film but, thankfully, Derrickson manages to incorporate a handful of fresh ideas (both in lore and onscreen visuals) - with genuinely riveting escalation.
Horror movie fans that are looking for traditional paranormal suspense and jump scares will probably find that Deliver Us From Evil offers more drama than demonic thrills. Nevertheless, for viewers who can appreciate a quality human story that explores the evils of everyday life (both personal and supernatural), Derrickson delivers a gripping experience - one that balances crime thriller suspense with absorbing supernatural mythology. It might not be the scariest movie of the year but, thanks to a compelling look at evil in our world, Deliver Us From Evil is still very frightening.
If you’re still on the fence about Deliver Us From Evil, check out the trailer below:
Deliver Us From Evil runs 118 minutes and is Rated R for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout, and language. Now playing in theaters.
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