Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Scott Derrickson
Stars: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Joel McHale, Sean Harris, Olivia Munn, Chris Coy, Dorian Missick, Lulu Wilson, Olivia Horton.
Not to be confused with Amy Berg’s documentary of the same name which explored the controversial issue of the systemic decades long cover up of pedophile priests within the Catholic church, Deliver Us From Evil is inspired by the story of Ralph Sarchie. Sarchie was an NYPD officer who worked the mean streets of the Bronx and on a daily basis saw the evil that men do as he dealt with some of the horrors such as battered wives, abused and murdered children. He eventually retired to become a full time demon buster. He detailed some of his exploits in a novel that has now been turned into a film.
But rather than being satisfied with creating a hard hitting police procedural or even a caustic and grittily realistic look at life on the mean streets like a Joseph Waumbaugh novel, writer and director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, etc) superimposes a supernatural theme over the top of Sarchie’s writing with a subplot involving three damaged former soldiers who returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq seemingly possessed by an evil demon. Derrickson himself describes the film as Serpico meets The Exorcist, and the film mixes the tropes of the familiar buddy cop genre with a touch of demonic possession, although the spooky X-Files would also be a good reference point.
While investigating a series of nasty and seemingly inexplicable events surrounding the three soldiers, Sarchie (played here by Eric Bana, best known for playing notorious hitman and gangster Chopper Read) and his wise-cracking partner Butler (Community’s Joel McHale) was forced to join forces with Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez, from the epic French miniseries Carlos The Jackal, etc) an unorthodox Jesuit priest with some dark secrets of his own. As the body count rises, Sarchie finds that his own family is threatened by the sinister forces at work.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the film’s visual style seems to have been heavily influenced by his successful CSI franchise, which revels in its gory forensic detail. Cinematographer Scott Kevan (The Losers, The Darkest Hour, etc) bathes the film in darkness, using natural lighting (or lack of it) for many scenes. Most of the action here occurs at night or in darkly lit claustrophobic apartments and in the rain swept streets. There is little light here which gives the material an overwhelmingly oppressive feel. Visually, this is easily the most dark, grim and bleak looking film this side of David Fincher’s creepy and unsettling thriller Seven.
The film also explores some big ideas and themes, such as the clash of cultures, the clash between religion and superstition, faith versus a lack of faith, justice versus vengeance.
Bana delivers a surprisingly bland performance as Sarchie, a veteran but world weary cop who is battling his own demons while dealing with the sights he sees on the streets every day. He also struggles to sustain a convincing accent throughout. Cast against type McHale is good as the cynical Butler, and is, arguably, the best thing here. He and Bana develop a great dynamic though as the partners attuned to each other. Olivia Munn is stuck in a fairly thankless role as his wife. Sean Harris has a frightening presence as the psychologically damaged, hooded sinister figure at the centre of the unsettling events.
There are a few cliched, spooky, look away moments interspersed throughout the film, but the film really falls apart towards the end as Mendoza conducts an exorcism in a police interrogation cell. And who knows why Derrickson thought it was necessary to accompany some of the spookier moments with songs from The Doors? Deliver us from such cliched filmmaking!