Silver Screen: Deliver Us from Evil *
“You’re not exactly what I expect in a priest,” Eric Bana’s weary detective tells Édgar Ramírez’s brooding, hunky exorcist in Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us from Evil.
“That’s funny, you’re exactly what I’d expect in a cop,” the priest retorts.
I don’t agree with the padre on much, but here he’s right on the money. Bana’s New York City police sergeant Ralph Sarchie is familiar from more movies than you can count and very few you’d like to remember. He’s a dedicated cop driven to darkness by the atrocities he witnesses on the job. Consumed with alcohol and quiet rage, he neglects his family while sinking deeper into a particular case that haunts him.
The presumptive twist here is that Sergeant Sarchie really is haunted. In this case, he believes there’s a link between a jittery war vet (Treme’s Chris Coy) and a woman (Olivia Horton) who throws her baby into the lion pit at the Bronx Zoo. Somehow the two are connected by a mysterious figure in black who looks like he got made up for a Marilyn Manson concert during a hasty car ride.
The supernatural overtones and religious arcana present at a crime scene prompt Sarchie to enlist Mendoza (Ramírez), a sexy priest with a sexy backstory and even sexy sadness, for which he frequently indulges his “medicine”— double shots of Johnny Walker Black. He’s not just a priest, he’s a demonologist.
Does Sarchie have some demons of his own? You bet your old Blockbuster membership card he does. Like most of the policemen in so many of the movies found in an old Blockbuster, he’s dogged by an old case that weighs on his conscience, one that even turned him away from regular churchgoing at the local Catholic outpost. These demons— both the metaphorical and the literal ones— are visited upon his benignly attentive wife (Olivia Munn) and his readymade victim of a daughter (Lulu Wilson), who plays with a battered, unnervingly creepy old jack-in-the-box that looks like it came from the Saw killer’s garage sale. She’s the toddler equivalent of the teen camp counselor who keeps barging into dark cabins. Your house is haunted, kid— stick to videogames and Dora until your pop fulfills his narrative trajectory.
Deliver Us from Evil is a mediocre police procedural that becomes a bad horror movie. Scott Derrickson, who directed the decent snuff-footage flick Sinister, overdoes Deliver Us from Evil’s atmosphere by half. It’s constantly raining, and everything outside of Sarchie’s sanctified home is trash-strewn and rancid, as though Rudy Giuliani did all that work for nothing. The movie’s moodiness is as affected as Ramírez’s chain-smoking lush of a demonologist, whose bad boy-isms make him seem like the rebellious power fantasy of a disgruntled altar boy, all Boondock Saints swagger but with Jim Carroll melancholy. Ramírez at least has the gravitas to make the brooding look legit. He was all tightly controlled menace in Oliver Assayas’s Carlos, but there’s not much he can do here with the inevitable and inevitably silly exorcism scenes, where a makeup-covered actor spits and contorts while the exorcists strain to just believe hard enough to vanquish the demon.
“Just believe hard enough” is the message of the movie, which ends [spoiler alert] with Sarchie back in church. The resolute look on his face says, “I should have been here all along.” That’s when the title cards remind you that this— a movie in which a hatchet-wielding war veteran in scary clown makeup gets in a blade fight with an adrenaline junkie cop (played by Joel McHale, oddly enough)— is all based on a true story. Despite, of course, resembling in form, function, and execution at least a half dozen other untrue stories currently available on Netflix.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.