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October 26, 2014

Deliver Us from Evil

by Franz Patrick


Deliver Us from Evil (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Directed by Scott Derrickson, “Deliver Us from Evil” begins on a solid footing, appropriately building an increasing sense of dread before giving the audience a full picture of what it is ultimately going to be about. About halfway through, however, it loses its way and it is eventually reduced to yet another horror movie about demonic possessions and we foresee an exorcism about to be performed from a mile away. It becomes less of an engaging experience and more a waiting game where special and visual effects finally take center stage.

Detective Sarchie (Eric Bana) takes a trip to the Bronx Zoo because there is a report of a woman who threw her baby into a ravine. They find her, apparently deranged, and she is arrested. Sarchie recognizes the woman reciting the lyrics to The Doors’ “Break on Through.” The cops figure she is on drugs and it might be better to question her at a later time. The next day, a priest named Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) asks Sarchie if, upon her arrest, the suspect was “unusually strong” the night before.

Intrigue is established in the first half. At the New York Police Department, cops have been complaining of calls from citizens who claim to hear strange noises in their home and see things moving on their own like their houses are possessed. The atmosphere likens that of David Fincher’s “Se7en” in that it is always raining, dark, and there is a sense of foreboding. It is easy to believe that although the story takes place in the real world, it is on the verge of a critical shift, like Pandor’s box is about to be opened.

But then the screenplay by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman is occasionally watered down by Sarchie’s problems at home. His wife (Olivia Munn) is beginning to feel as though he is spending too much time at work and when he is at home, his mind is somewhere else. I found this to be unbearably boring, formulaic, and forced. None of the dialogue between Bana and Munn work to progress the story in the forward direction and neither do we feel that their characters are into each other.

Scenes between Sarchie and his partner, Butler (Joel McHale), while driving around NYC, are better because we can actually glimpse into the dynamic of their relationship. The latter, however, is only occasionally found in the latter half as the priest’s role in the story gains more significance.

In bad horror movies with limited budget, lights turning on and off, hearing strange noises, and the booming of the score when something supposedly exciting happens rarely ever work. Here, the same approach is employed only this picture has more funds. And guess what? It still does not work. What good is using special and visual effects when there is no elegance or ingenuity in the script designed to escalate the tension in a consistent or surprising ways?

“Deliver Us from Evil” is a good movie for a while but it degenerates into a mindless mess where the effort is put into ticking every box in the horror genre instead of exploring new frontiers through a mixing of the crime and horror genres. As the final hour unfolds, I sat in my chair increasingly frustrated but was comforted by the fact that at least it is not another tired found footage horror-thriller.

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