In all my years seeing movies, I don’t think I’ve seen a collective shrug quite like the one my theater experienced upon leaving Deliver Us From Evil. A passive gesture of that magnitude could only have been triggered by a film destined to fall into obscurity the instant Wal-Mart removes it from the featured DVD rack.
You will not hate Deliver Us From Evil, but I’ll bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that you won’t remember it long after you’ve left the theater. (Unless clinging on to memories of sub-par movies is part of your job, in which case, you have my sympathies.)
Deliver Us From Evil
Director: Scott Derrickson
Release Date: July 2nd, 2014
Deliver Us From Evil opens with soldiers in Iraq discovering a cave with some kind of evil inside it. Cut — almost immediately — to Sg. Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) and Joel McHale as Himself (this sounds like a joke, but McHale isn’t even trying) finding a dead baby in an alley. From there, it’s off to the races as Sarchie and McHale come across a domestic call that seems a little…demonic.
These early 20-odd minutes are among the film’s worst: the editing is choppy, the shot composition is overly crowded, and the jump scares are especially cheap. There are just moments where nobody talks and you know a jump is coming. The best jump scares are derived from stretches of tension or the unexpected. Just screaming at the audience is always going to earn a reaction. And when Delivers Us From Evil isn’t yelling at you, it’s just dull.
Everything picks up during the final exorcism, when the film actually wakes up and starts enjoying itself. But that’s just not enough to save it. The core of Deliver Us From Evil’s problem is that every plot point feels like it’s building to a larger climax. You’ll hear a lot of Break On Through (To the Other Side) by The Doors, which seems to imply that the baddies are lesser demons who seek to unleash some Gozerian-esque force upon the citizens of New York City. But the movie never actually becomes a gritty reboot of Ghostbusters. Why are the demons painting these intricate spells all over New York? Just to possess four people?
I will concede that plot holes are the least interesting problems one can have with a movie, but these quibbles wouldn’t exist if Deliver Us From Evil followed through on the conclusion it seemed to promise. This is a particularly odd case of disappointment, because these unrealized expectations were set by the film’s surprisingly compelling use of foreshadowing…that never leads to anything. As a result, I can’t look at the plot on its own merits because the story’s failure comes from within. In fairness, the story would be less compelling if it didn’t have these elements, but then no aspect of the movie would have kept my attention.
This continues into the performances, which lack a certain “je-ne-sais-quoi.” Only McHale seems to be enjoying himself, but he and the role he is ostensibly playing are not even on the same continent. Sarchie’s wife Jen (Olivia Munn, 11 years Bana’s junior) exists solely to provide human drama for the first two acts, after which the film sticks her in a box. The only real standout is Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), the two-fisted, street-level priest taking the fight to the demons who brings Sarchie into his world. Ramirez is by no means the most compelling screen presence ever, but his performance works. It’s not hard to imagine a better film centered around this character.
Plus, everything desperately needed a steadier hand. This movie doesn’t look dark, it just has poor lighting. What few action scenes Deliver Us From Evil has are smothered by a lack of proper geography. The fights are just bodies, flailing in various directions. Without a sense of what’s going on, it’s difficult to get involved.
Even as someone whose firsthand experience with demonic possession films (and indeed, the genuine article) is limited, Deliver Us From Evil feels derivative. Perhaps this is a result of popular culture satirizing The Exorcist to the point of singularity. If you have ever found yourself in the same area code as a Scary Movie DVD, you know all the beats. Except now said beats have to share precious film with an especially dour cop thriller.
The movie sells itself as a mix of “Se7en and The Exorcist,” which — under better circumstances — would be a compliment. But here? It’s two great tastes that don’t taste great together.