Release: Wednesday, July 2, 2014
If the word ‘evil’ here can be interchanged with ‘boredom,’ then this is the perfect title for a film as lacking in personality as Scott Derrickson’s attempt at repackaging familiar themes to produce a unique experience.
Cliches are bountiful to the point of infiltrating the project’s title. Deliver Us From Evil suggests nothing but averageness and the proceedings do everything in their power to reinforce the notion. From Eric Bana’s hackneyed character arc — a man wrestling with personal demons becomes obsessed with a particularly troubling case and subsequently even more distant from his family — to the merciless employment of jump scares, to the predictably lame conclusion that relies on nothing more than a standard exorcism to bring the horror to a crescendo, everything about this project suggests what Derrickson and company have to work with here is hand-me-down material. Material from superior films from the annals of this dark and curiously entertaining genre.
Bana plays a rather unlikable New York cop filled to the brim with machismo. Night and day he works in the slums of the city’s worst and most vile criminal trespassings, most recently discovering a series of impossibly disturbing situations involving babies being found in dumpsters, being dropped into lion’s dens at the local zoo, among other horrendous happenings. As a result he’s emotionally detached and more determined than anything to make sure his job gets done. The film we experience is apparently based on evidence and testimonials from the real NYPD Sergeant Ralph Sarchie, who, after experiencing this harrowing sequence of events, quit the force and reconnected with his spiritual side.
Derrickson’s account of the officer’s descent into demonic dealings in the filth and squalor of New York’s underground, while atmospherically appropriate, is written so as to become classroom-lecture style boring. There is not one lick of originality in any chapter in this police procedural, one partially interspersed with hard jolts of hellish blood-letting and heart-stopping loud crashing sounds as evidence of a possible evil spirit lurking in the air.
Partnered up with Joel McHale’s wisecracking Butler, who injects much-needed enthusiasm into the story — admittedly by forcing humor whenever possible, though he shouldn’t be faulted for at least trying here — the rough and gruff Sarchie is also a man running astray from his family’s religious upbringing. Wife Jen (Olivia Munn) has faith but also respect for what her husband does and the real-world hell he endures on a daily basis so she doesn’t force the issue. Or maybe she just isn’t allowed to; we don’t really know, the family dynamic is so poorly developed we aren’t afforded to know any of them other than Ralph. But even he remains a fairly static character, as his brooding skepticism slowly becomes manipulated into something akin to reluctant acceptance.
His chance encounter with an unconventional priest, a man whose effectiveness in the field of demonology and exorcism is betrayed by his Scott Stapp-esque appearance, helps to strip away that layer of doubt and disbelief. Ladies and gentleman, this is Édgar Ramírez’s Mendoza — or as Ralph likes to continually refer to him, Father Mendoza, despite his being a Catholic priest. He’s the guy who takes the baton from Ralph and Butler when events take a turn for the bizarre upon their discovery of three men who have all experienced severe behavioral disturbances and patterns of extreme violence following their deployment to Iraq in 2010 and subsequent discharge from the armed forces. The cops, even armed with their steadfast belief in being able to take on even the most amoral of mobsters, are well in over their head this time around and Mendoza offers his hand in the matter.
Deliver Us From Evil may ratchet up tension every now and then, but this is owed more to, again, the atmosphere Derrickson manages to effect through this particularly grimy and desolate space. No performance truly juts out from another, though Munn unfortunately bears the brunt of some of the worst lines and most one-dimensional character traits possible. When the violence hits close to home, fear and panic register but only barely. We only feel something because Ralph is inexplicably in wedlock to this gorgeous woman with an equally beautiful outlook on life and endless support for her family. (We don’t gather this info on our own, it’s all but handed to us on a silver platter given the way she’s dressed and her doting care for her daughter and husband, starkly contrasted to Bana’s cold personality.)
There are many frustrations created by this bland piece of cinema, yet the biggest violation has got to be the lack of emotional heft. Given this is based on a series of real events, we ought to feel genuine terror. We ought to feel dread and a desire to keep these characters out of harm’s way. What we ought not to be doing is laughing at several of the scare tactics. We ought to not be poking fun of victims who are slowly decomposing before us. But we haven’t been given much of a choice.
There is such little emotional connection with this film that it’s nice to feel something at all — our funny bones being tickled is better than being left numb to yet another misguided attempt at repackaging the familiar and giving it a new label. Deliver Us From Evil? How about deliver us from the evil that keeps delivering us things like Deliver Us From Evil?
Recommendation: It’s really difficult to give this a strong recommendation given the film’s underwhelming genericness. Despite an at-times tense atmosphere and chilling environs, there’s not enough significantly ‘different’ about anything that occurs in this uninspired horror to bear mentioning. It might also be worth noting you could do much worse for a bland horror film in 2014 but for want of saving money, sit tight and wait for some better entries that are bound to come out later on this year.
Running Time: 118 mins.
Quoted: “Ninja turtles and hot pockets, bruh. . .”
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