I continued one of my favorite family traditions, seeing a scary movie with my mom, by seeing Deliver Us from Evil yesterday. Like the last movie I reviewed, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I think that part of the problem is that the first possession movie I ever saw was The Exorcist and no possession movie is ever going to be as scary or as thoughtful as that one.
Like The Exorcist, Deliver Us from Evil opens in Iraq. A group of three soldiers enter a mysterious cave. It smells and has strange writing on the wall. You know situations like that never, ever end well. I like this scene because of the reference to The Exorcist and the use of multiple kinds of cameras to add a kind of realness. This is used a bit throughout the movie, with security footage interspersed with regular camerawork.
Three years later, Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is a sergeant on the New York Police Department. He neglects his family and sees too much on the street, I think we hit all the cop movie tropes.
Sarchie and his partner, Butler (Joel McHale, can he be in every movie?) go to a domestic dispute where the perp is an Iraq war vet. Then they’re called to the Bronx Zoo, where a woman tried to throw her baby into the lion pit.
The mother of the child is absolutely crazy and is sent to the hospital
Sarchie meets Mendoza (Édgar Ramirez), an unconventional Jesuit priest, when the woman is released into his custody. Sarchie doesn’t consult Mendoza until weird things start happening in his own home. The people in these cases are all linked to the same Iraqi war vets from the beginning.
The movie is based on Ralph Sarchie’s book, Beware the Night. Yes, this is an actual case where “Based on true events” is true. Well, true-ish. More true than Fargo.
This movie had some ups and downs.
I definitely liked Joel McHale. I’ve only ever seen him on The Soup and Community so it was interesting seeing him in a movie. I’m not sure if he has it in him to be the lead but he was good as Butler. I didn’t recognize him at first. It’s worth seeing the movie if you’re a McHale fan because he brings the smart-assery.
I like that the movie was set in New York City. Not movie New York, where all you see is Manhattan. It’s set in the Bronx and where Sarchie lives has a very All in the Family feel, even though that was set in Queens.
Most of the possession movies I’ve seen have been very self-contained. They rarely venture outside the home. In Deliver Us from Evil the city isn’t just a character, it’s a character that’s suffering.
The movie makes artful use of music by The Doors. Mendoza mentions the doors of perception so it’s pretty appropriate. If you listen to The Doors, you know how creepy their music can be so I appreciate their inclusion.
The closing credits were actually quite gorgeous, they were collages of animal parts added to human bodies and were much more interesting than the opening credits.
Now, the bad. The movie is just under two hours and I felt every minute of it. The exorcism scene felt too long and stopped being scary when the character being exorcised bit into his arm and started eating his own flesh. Subtler is always scarier, like the inexplicable coldness in Regan’s room.
The movie makes a big deal about Sarchie confessing his sins to Mendoza. He eventually confesses that he killed a man, Marvin the Molester, a child molester that moved on to murder. Mendoza describes Sarchie’s sin as wrath–Sarchie beat him to death–and then absolves him. I wish Sarchie’s victim had been less obviously evil. Few people are going to be sad about the death a child predator and a lot of people could justify killing one. The stakes would be higher and Sarchie’s character would be more interesting if he killed someone who was more ambiguous.
My final point started off in the good column but, upon reconsidering, I moved it to the bad column. I initially liked the movie as a metaphor for the baggage that veterans bring back with them from war. But then I decided that that reduces evil to something that’s pretty banal. PTSD is something inflicted on humans by other humans. Would the devil even deign to commit something like that? Mendoza describes the difference between primary and secondary evil. Secondary evil is the evil the humans commit against each other. Primary evil is diabolical. I keep going back to The Exorcist but it’s really useful to contrast the evil in The Exorcist versus evil in Deliver Us from Evil. In one of the extended scenes in The Exorcist, Father Karras asks, “Why her? Why this girl?” and Father Merrin responds, “I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as… animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.” THAT is how you explain primary evil and that is how you portray primary evil. Take an innocent girl and make her profane. But attributing the really horrible crimes committed by humans against each other cheapens the devil.
This movie was definitely gory but most of the scares were jump scares. I just really like a slow-burning movie when it comes to possession. It had lots of atmosphere but didn’t really deliver in the end. The movie was directed by Scott Derrickson, the director of Sinister, which makes this a little extra disappointing since I liked Sinister so much.
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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