There are so many new movies coming out lately; even excluding the theater releases (because I still can’t go to the cinema where I live), Netflix alone released heavy hitters like Concrete Cowboys, Thunder Force, Stowaway, amongst others. Broadening the search to international cinema, Netflix alone, has released interesting movies like Ride or Die, Homunculus, Night in Paradise, The Soul, White Tiger, and so many more. With these many new and interesting options, it’s no wonder that I ended up watching…none of them (yet) and decided to watch…Deliver us from Evil, a 2014 Sony horror movie; thanks brain!
Joking aside, Deliver us from Evil (DUFE) is a movie I always want to see, when it pops up as an option, but I always back out of it to watch something else, however last night I didn’t. It is directed and written by Scott Derrickson, the guy behind similar horror movies like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, but most likely known now for the Doctor Strange movie. It stars Eric Bana, Joel McHale, Olivia Munn, Edgar Ramirez, and Sean Harris. Just like Sinister and Emily Rose, DUFE takes a dramatic genre (court room drama for Emily Rose, investigative thrillers for Sinister) and adds a horror element to it, and this time it is police procedurals with supernatural horror thrown into the mix; DUFE is based on the Ralph Sarchie book about a New York police officer who has lost his faith, but starts encountering increasingly bizarre and hard to explain phenomena while working a case and through that he meets Priest Mendoza who challenges his beliefs.
The first thing that might strike you as bizarre when watching this movie is the casting choices; off the top of my head, this is the worst cast movie, holistically, I have seen. I don’t care what the actor’s history is or what their perceived talents are; in a world where Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart started out in Twilight and are now two of the most respected and critically acclaimed actors in the industry, I couldn’t care less what the actor’s filmography looks like. Good actors can disappear into their roles and remove previous associations with them in good character work. Having said that, these actors were simply not able to do that. Eric Bana, as a skeptic cop, simply feels out of place and fails to endear himself to the audience. Edgar Ramirez as a maverick Priest works a lot better in practice than in theory, but he never felt natural at it, because it is a very similar role to the ones he was cast in previously, and never felt like he adjusted the details to fit his character. Joel McHale is really poor in this and doesn’t even work as a comic relief character, but is outright bad as an adrenaline junkie cop who prefers knifes and close quarter combat scenarios. Sean Harris is actually pretty good and transcends the basic problems of his character to give a decent performance, while Olivia Munn is not in the movie as much as you would think and still never felt like she was her character.
The casting was a mixed bag, to put it lightly, and that really hurts this movie irreversibly. Having said that, the writing is another major shortcoming for the movie, particularly the characterization so the acting can’t take the whole blame; all the characters suffer from this, because at best they are boring and at worst they feel like they were written for a separate parody project in the vein of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Take for example of the former Butler (Joel McHale’s character). He is a walking cliché of the rush cop who seeks confrontation and only speaks in jokey one-liners; he is irritating and too one-note to ever keep the suspension of disbelief for more than a minute of screen time, but he is inconsequential overall and can get an easy pass as a boring character in a horror movie. Ralph Sarchie (protagonist portrayed by Eric Bana) is not as easy to excuse. Having not read the book or heard of real life Sarchie before this movie, having a protagonist who is so over-the-top “cool”, gets an easy pass for any shortcomings he shows, and is portrayed as if this was a gritty, “real” action/crime drama to the point where I am cringe laughing at most of the scenes that include him, is an obvious problem. I was always skeptical of biographical movies and even more so when the people the movie is about are still alive, but ever since Bohemian Rhapsody, I am most weary of the latter – especially when the people are involved in the making of it. The protagonist, in fact, is the central problem of the movie; he spends most of the beginning making fun of the supernatural, but by his second encounter with the Priest he gives up and starts believing; his development as a character happens within 30 minutes of which 20 are spent on a set-piece moment with no character development; in a “biographical” movie where one of the central problems that the protagonist has to overcome is his neglect towards his family, his family is barely in it and don’t matter for the most part. There’s a scene that involves the protagonist yelling at his daughter to shut up, because she had too much sugar (with a sly dig at his mother-in-law), and his wife calls him out on it, which makes him start listing horrific shit he encountered during this week and his wife is like “okay cool, don’t worry about it”; I’m obviously paraphrasing that, but you can see how his character goes unquestioned by the movie. Moreover, there is literally a confession scene where the protagonist acknowledges his neglect towards his family, only to reject his wife’s call two minutes later and not really look for them until the next morning.
Even beyond these points, the movie is filled with false jump-scares, low production values, and subpar action scenes. Given the talent of the director and how he handled similar issues in past movies, I was extremely disappointed; even more so, because the movie clearly had a lot of effort and talent put into it. The atmosphere is still top-notch, the “real” scares are legit good, and the whole dynamic of procedural cop drama along supernatural horror works surprisingly well; the central mystery is not that interesting, but the specifics of it are unique to say the least. The protagonist will hear things other people can’t, but those things are not as cliché as the rest of the movie (at least one of them) and the confrontations with the villain are legitimately thrilling and exciting. While the protagonist does accept the supernatural elements, he clearly spent a lot of time not believing in, a bit too fast, those skeptical elements are still part of the movie and are fun to watch, as well as giving a natural recipient to exposition mostly meant for the audience.
Overall, when comparing Deliver us from Evil to Emily Rose or even Sinister, it does not hold up; even on its own, Deliver us from Evil is not that interesting or worthwhile to bother with. However, the ways in which it fails is interesting to me and the ways in which it succeeds just allude to the potential it had and never came close to meeting. Regardless, I am interested in Derrickson the same way I am interested in Oz Perkins; I don’t always like their stuff, but I always appreciate their talents and efforts, as well as how unique they try to be.