It’s just as well that director Scott Derrickson is heading over to Marvel Studios to helm Doctor Strange, because subtly and shades of grey are in increasingly short supply in his low budget horror career.
Building on the feedback squall and intense jump scare bombast of Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil’s major, Jerry Bruckheimer-backed escalation can be found in its central character and its setting.
Based on the ‘real’ account of NYPD badass-turned-exorcist Ralph Sarchi, there’s a fidelity to the real Sarchi’s interpretation of events that cuffs the ambiguity and forces it up against the hood of a patrol car. It’s similar to the lack of real moral challenge afforded Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring.
Even The Exorcist – the template for films of this ilk and possessed by similarly unflinching Christian worldview – withheld the supernatural for as long as possible to turn up its nose at the limits of science and the implicit blasphemy of a single mother.
Deliver Us From Evil, meanwhile, just offers up Prometheus‘ Sean Harris dislocating his neck with one hand and offers up a streetwise Latin American exorcist (Édgar Ramírez) with the other, nodding meaningful at its cast to say “You know what to do.”
Eric Bana, whose meteoric rise seemed to hit a wall somewhere after Munich, is working far harder to capture Sarchi’s Bronx physicality than is probably necessary.
It’s a level of nuance that Deliver Us From Evil firmly eschews, what with his knife-fighting sidekick (Joel McHale) and possessed animal woman scampering out of a prison cell on all fours with a big ring of keys in her teeth.
That’s not a problem in itself – there’s plenty of OTT classics in horror’s bloated canon – but coupled with the moral absolutism makes the whole thing seem slightly cartoonish, not helped by a cop vs demon cat’n’mouse tale straight from the likeably silly Exorcist 3 and dull body-hopping serial killer flick Fallen.
It’s a beautiful looking film, though. A city of distant sirens and streetlights in puddles that echoes Se7en, Bana’s Sarchi feels right at home stiffening his jaw and letting out a barely perceptible grunt of displeasure at the domestic abuse and drug use that crosses his path.
He’s fun to watch, but ultimately he’s a silly name short of a superhero, beating Benedict Cumberbatch’s spellcasting Stephen Strange to the punch in Derrickson’s cinematic ouvre.
That, alas, probably wasn’t what they were going for.