REVIEW: Deliver Us from Evil

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TO EVIL1 Supplied TORMENT: Eric Bana in an action scene from the serial-killer mystery Deliver Us From Evil.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

DIRECTOR: Scott Derrickson

CAST: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Joel McHale, Olivia Munn, Chris Coy, Dorian Missick, Sean Harris

CLASSIFICATION: 16 LV

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

RATING: ***

A serial-killer mystery in which the culprit turns out to be one of Satan’s minions, Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil adapts the detective genre to an exorcism tale that is serious about the prospect of demonic possession.

Though based on claims made by real-life NYPD officer-turned-paranormal investigator Ralph Sarchie (Bana), the picture is stolen by a fictional character – a composite religious figure played with a predictable level of smoulder by Carlos star Edgar Ramirez.

More aesthetically coherent if less frightening than the director’s 2012 hit Sinister, the film has a shot at surpassing that outing commercially by virtue of its appeal to devout Catholics.

That audience will find Deliver respectful of their faith, though its nods to religion are genre-appropriate and never preachy enough to alienate the average horror fan.

Sarchie, a cop who covers the South Bronx with partner Butler (Joel McHale), is proud of an internal “radar” that steers him away from mundane radio calls and toward the juicy cases. But an incident in which a deranged mother threw her toddler into the Bronx Zoo’s lion pit is juicier than usual, with a mysterious, blood-stained bystander disrupting the investigation before vanishing.

Still, Sarchie is ready to write off the mother as a garden-variety psycho even when a Jesuit priest, Ramirez’s Mendoza, shows up to insist on a more complicated explanation.

Only after other crimes prove to share tangible connections (tracing to three Marines who had a disturbing encounter during the Iraq war) and supernatural overtones does Sarchie admit there may be something to the priest’s claim. Maybe, the lapsed-Catholic cop starts to worry, the man they’re hunting really is possessed.

Enjoyably, this particular case isn’t limited to a one spirit-controlled victim terrorising his family and friends. Poltergeist-y after-effects haunt the places and people he visited – even Sarchie, who is plagued by shock-cut hallucinations and whose house has become a scary place for his young daughter. (Olivia Munn, playing Sarchie’s wife, tries to comfort the poor girl, but the film ratchets up her bump-in-the-night torment.)

The investigation yields some icky encounters with putrefying corpses and deranged prisoners, which is good considering the sometimes flimsy cop-movie stuff that surrounds the scares.

Bulked-up McHale, who acquits himself well in action scenes, gets a kind of jadedly quippy dialogue; Munn’s part could have been scripted by cut-and-pasting any of a hundred other neglected-policeman’s-wife characters.

While the supernatural side suffers a flaw or two – references to The Doors are superfluous and sometimes chuckle-inducing – its central conflict works. Ramirez, shaggy enough to be the Serpico of exorcists, but exuding calm wisdom instead of obsessive determination, makes faith look cool. His seriousness enables the movie’s desire to dig into the mechanics of the climactic exorcism – though Sean Harris, drooling and growling and threatening as the possessed man, deserves credit as well.

The FX crew careen along the dividing line between excitement and bombast, conjuring hurricane-like forces and gory transformations while the holy man tries to rescue a mortal from his tormentors. – Hollywood Reporter


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