Satan Getting Behind the Times

Eric Bana in Deliver Us From Evil

Eric Bana in Deliver Us From Evil

MOVIE  l  Deliver Us From Evil   l  MA 15+

The latest demonic thriller from Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) loudly proclaims itself to be based on true events. This has been a recurring trend of horror pictures, giving credence to the likes of shameless “paranormal investigators” – self-publicists Ed and Lorraine Warren (The Amityville Horror/The Conjuring).

Derrickson bases his story on the memoir Beware The Night by Ralph Sarchie, a retired NYPD detective and demonologist. Sarchie is also a student of the Warrens, which should set alarm bells ringing, though the film blithely junks its pretence to veracity by setting the opening in Iraq in 2010. Beware The Night was published in 2001.

Instead the plot of this film is a hodge-podge of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, which also began in Iraq, and the underrated Denzel Washington vehicle Fallen.

That latter film had an amusing gimmick where possessed victims began to sing The Rolling Stones tune ‘Time Is On My Side’. In Derrickson’s film the devil has moved on to a fondness for ‘Break On Through’ by The Doors. This is intended as a pun of sorts, as the demon in this film is looking to use ‘doors’ to possess the residents of the Bronx, courtesy of demonic sigils scrawled on walls by a horribly scarred Iraq vet (Sean Harris).

Australian Eric Bana, concentrating on maintaining his Bronx accent, plays detective Sarchie as a man burdened by the evils of the world. He begins to investigate separate cases involving three dishonorably discharged American marines, his hunches lead him to the conclusion that they are all related. When a friendly priest – a stubbled Édgar Ramírez preferring leather jackets, and an ever-present cigarette in his mouth, to a dog collar – argues that Sarchie has only encountered ‘secondary evil’, that there is something far worse working through these men, the cop snorts.

This working class Italian Catholic has no time for second-hand Thomas Aquinas, as he’s had a lifetime of abuse and violence on the streets to deal with already.

In this exchange, we hit the nub of Derrickson’s tonal insecurity with Deliver Us From Evil. Is this another gritty cop drama set in a city where it is always raining? Or a supernatural horror where merely glimpsing a tableau of Persian and Latin graffitti is enough to lose one’s soul? Instead of a modern horror, this feels like a Harry Callahan and Father Damien Karras partner up parody.

Derrickson, a theology graduate from California’s Biola University, introduces occasional dialogue touching on intriguing notions of faith. In the middle of a bar filled with firemen, ‘specialist’ Father Mendoza (the word exorcist is conspicuously absent from the film) declares that we are too concerned with the problem of evil, but give no thought to the ‘problem of good’. He then indicates the men surrounding them who willingly give their lives to save strangers.

There is also a brief parallel drawn between the American occupation of Iraq and the Roman incursion into Persia a millennium before.

But then the film resorts to cliched jump-cuts, house-hold pets and children’s toys acting up, and adding insult to injury a drooling Linda Blair knock-off.

Having run the gamut of supernatural horror tropes, the film turns to cop dramas. There is the obligatory neglected wife who is the brunt of her cop husband’s frustration (Olivia Munn), a wise-cracking partner (a visibly uncomfortable Joel McHale), and a dark secret haunting our troubled hero.

It is astonishing how dated and derivative this film is, a demonic thriller that could easily sit alongside the 1970’s crop of Satanic possession horror films such as The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror and Burnt Offerings. Untroubled by any hint of restraint, Deliver Us From Evil yanks out random baubles from the Hollywood grab bag of demonology and stitches them together into a movie.

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