DVD Review: 'Deliver Us From Evil'

If man is five and the devil six, then Fincher’s Se7en (1995). Scott Derrickson's religious-themed supernatural drama, Deliver Us fom Evil (2014), takes place in a city of endless rain and tenebrous shadows occasionally disturbed by the diamond-dazzle of car headlights, or torches penetrating the dank spaces of tenement buildings and subterranean holes in a bid to illuminate the festering evil within. A debt to the visual palette and artfully grizzled sheen of the aforementioned and much-imitated 1990s serial-killer classic is very apparent indeed. Derrickson's effort isn't a world away from Antonio Margheriti's cult classic Cannibal Apocalypse (1980), either (cannibalism out; demonic possession in).

Additionally it resembles that early episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Xander and the mean cool kids were possessed by hyena spirits and ate Herbert the school mascot. Just as any film can wear its heart on its sleeve, so too can a variety of influences be as plain as day. Not that Deliver Us from Evil was directly sourced from a 1980s gore flick or Joss Whedon's writing crew. It stemmed from an idea of producer Jerry Bruckheimer's to make a movie that merged Serpico (1973) with The Exorcist (1973). To scoff may be the natural reaction, but such brainstorming has the definite whiff of a focus group: 'Fifty percent of those we polled said "Serpico meets The Exorcist" was a great idea for a movie'. That's possibly why the resulting effort is less 'gumshoe' than 'flat-footed'.

The talented director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and Sinister (2012) can mount tension and creeping fear with the best of them, but the leaden nature of the thematic core (and that 'Father Serpico' germ) is burdened by a reactionary post-9/11 subtext, along with dubious (and simplistic) treatment of powerful institutions and figures. To lend a bit more oomph to Bruckheimer's one-line synopsis, Derrickson and his co-writer hooked the project on the memoirs of former NYC copper turned demonologist, Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana, increasingly looking like the acting equivalent of a one hit wonder), who teamed up with a Jesuit priest (played by Édgar Ramirez) to take down Satan and his minions on the mean streets of the Big Apple.

The film can be seen as an origins story – how the relationship started over philosophical conversations, their acceptance of being flawed but inherently good men (yawn), and their dalliances with busting ghosties-and-ghoulies. Less like Peter Venkman and the gang, and more in the roughhouse style of Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo of The French Connection (1971). It’s not all cockamamie and cracked. The use of military figures as the victims of demonic possession is as intriguing as it is politically suspect, but at least it's a change from teenaged girls messing around with ouija boards. The obligatory third-act exorcism, meanwhile, is a blast of sound and fury. Ultimately, Deliver Us from Evil is a very messy affair. Stick to The Exorcist and Serpico. Don’t mix them together; it's a cocktail as barbarous and wrong-headed as red wine and whiskey.

Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn


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