The term "horror gem" is being utilized a lot less often lately. It has become increasingly difficult to find new worthwhile features that will leave us sleeping with the lights on. Writer/director Scott Derrickson created something truly dark and intriguing with The Exorcism of Emily Rose. With a breakout performance from Jennifer Carpenter and a creepy atmosphere, it worked rather well. Years later, he got under our skin with Sinister, which features nightmarish imagery that left audiences stricken with fear. In 2014, Derrickson is releasing another supernatural-inspired horror feature titled Deliver Us From Evil. Will this be another picture to place among this filmmaker's best pieces of work, or will it ultimately blend in with every other exorcism flick that hits the silver screen?
New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) investigates a series of crimes that appear to be unrelated. After experiencing some strange phenomena, this non-believer in the supernatural begins to hear sounds and see visions. He joins forces with unconventional priest Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez), who is specialized in the rituals of exorcism. Together they must combat the possessions that are terrorizing their city before any more havoc is unleashed. This story is supposedly "inspired by the actual accounts of an NYPD officer."
Deliver Us From Evil begins by showing the source of its evil, which is barely hidden underground in Iraq. As a small group of soldiers come upon this area while in combat, they prove to never be the same. Soon after, we're placed in Bronx, New York from the perspective of New York police officer Ralph Sarchie. This man has seen countless horrific crimes that have affected his personal life, as well as his professional one. He may be respected in his field, but he's rarely around for his wife (Olivia Munn) and daughter (Lulu Wilson). Writers Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman don't make it easy to connect with Sarchie on any level. At one moment, we're expected to sympathize with his troubles, and then he's portrayed as the one-dimensional officer that one would expect to see on a television show for the remainder of the time. Given that this isn't a character that viewers will be able to conned with, it makes the evolving family drama extremely irritating. There isn't enough actual substance within these characters to spark our interest in such melodramatic drama. Audiences will just want to see the next round of creepy sequences.
This screenplay gets off to a relatively poor start, as it tries so hard to be dark and creepy, but then it tries even harder to incorporate some cheesy shtick. There are a lot of scenes in which chuckles are appropriate, which simply feels out of place. It's difficult to settle within a film that ultimately becomes tonally confused. Deliver Us From Evil wants you to be scared, but it also seems to want some laughs. However, this isn't the horror comedy combination that has become so very popular, as it tries to be taken seriously throughout its duration. There aren't many direct jokes, as most of the humor is stemmed within the situations. In other scenes, you'll find this horror thriller trying to be a cop mystery, which is hardly handled like anything that was meant to be seen on the big screen. If you're searching for some skin-crawling sequences that will leave you fearing the dark, you won't find them here. The majority of the strongest scares are found within the trailers, leaving us with a large amount of unimaginative jump-scares that want us to flinch rather than be afraid. The film has its moments of eerie material, but such scenes are few and far apart.
The film works towards a clear path that is sure to end with an exorcism. The majority of this scene is intense, as it tries to show a more detailed look at the process of exorcism in stages. The interactions had with the demon throughout this exorcism is a large improvement over those primarily seen in these supernatural flicks. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for the picture to return to its clashing tones. This leads us to a predictable conclusion that tries to hit a more sentimental note, which feels incredibly random. It's very difficult to understand exactly what Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman are trying to achieve here. While there are some good ideas hidden here and there, all of them feel unfulfilled. Even when the film manages to reach an eerie moment, it quickly takes us back to the cheesy cop drama. This clash of ideas truly makes for an experience that isn't able to successfully deliver on any of its goals.
Not only are the advertisements publicizing that the film is inspired by the accounts of an NYPD officer, but it's also marketing the two biggest names in the picture. Eric Bana plays a rather underwhelming Ralph Sarchie. Not only is it difficult to find him believable in this role, but he has an accent that drops in and out more times than there are jump scares. It's extremely distracting. Édgar Ramírez is an improvement in the role of Mendoza. He's convincing and brings personality to the character that wouldn't have been there otherwise. Perhaps the most confusing cast choice would have to be Joel McHale as Butler. He's not necessarily horrible in the role, but it feels more like we're watching Joel McHale play himself rather than Butler. There aren't any break-out performances, such as the one we saw in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but the majority of the cast does what they can with the material.
Unlike the visual style found in Derrickson's previous pictures, the film is simply drowned in darkness. While it makes sense for the picture to be dark, simply drenching the film in it doesn't create an atmosphere that audiences will fear. However, Deliver Us From Evil succeeds in the makeup department, as all of the practical effects look absolutely creepy. The visuals are accompanied with an effective audio track that utilizes each and every speaker in the cinema. Whether you're hearing creaking, scratching, screaming, or the loud score, the surround speakers truly immerse the audience in this supernatural story. While the color palette could have used more inspiration, the remainder of the technical aspects work incredibly well.
Even with its initial potential, Deliver Us From Evil doesn't instill an ounce of fear in its audience. It cares more about making viewers jump rather than leaving any lasting impression, which is a real shame. The film has its moments through its creepier moments, but the feature doesn't manage to dig under the skin in the same manner as Derrickson's Sinister. Instead, this is a rather superficial horror experience with clashing tones. It never feels very confident about what it wants to be and what goals it seeks to achieve. Deliver Us From Evil doesn't quite manage to deliver on any truly effective scares. Rent it.