Deliver Us From Evil is a pretty run-of-the-mill possession horror film. But it has one thing going for it: The bromance between a lapsed-Catholic cop (Eric Bana) and an unconventional priest (Edgar Ramirez). This lets the film occasionally get into themes of masculine vulnerability, and the craving for forgiveness.
Get thee behind me, spoilers!
Deliver Us From Evil really is nothing to write home about — it's yet another demonic horror film, offering almost no surprises and a lot of dull jump-scares. Plus it's the latest in a long line of "based on a true story" movies, which only makes the whole thing more predictable. (Because the "true story" almost always ends with someone alive to tell the tale.)
So yeah, there's no point in seeing this movie in the theater — but you might Netflix it at three in the morning some day, and if you do, you'll enjoy a few bits where the cop and the priest open up their wounded souls to each other. The movie clearly wants to be about these two broken men sharing a special bond, and only throws in Satan as an excuse for the two of them to spend a lot of time together.
In Deliver Us From Evil, a Bronx cop named Ralph Sarchie (Bana) investigates a bunch of horrific cases, which all turn out to be connected. And it turns out that all of these cases connect somehow to three marines who returned from Iraq after a dishonorable discharge — and it turns out that the three jarheads went inside an ancient tomb and disturbed something ancient. Something that's conjured by Babylonian symbols and Latin writing.
A couple of the three ex-marines have turned themselves into Reavers, and one of them has carved shit on his chest. Sarchie has a special sensitivity to supernatural events, which actually makes him more vulnerable to this demon, which starts stalking him. The demon is trying to create doors to allow it to cross over into our world, and it conveys this by blasting the Doors (the 1960s rock band) at Ralph constantly.
Yeah, it's hard to take seriously a demon that loves puns and classic rock that much.
This movie reaches for the same toolbox as a ton of other recent horror films — there are weird noises, jump scares, children's toys that look spooky, and the aforementioned Reavers. There are a few really violent scenes that manage to be kind of alarming, and some upsetting scenes of animal abuse — like, at one point, a cat gets horribly crucified. Also, at one point Eric Bana gets locked in a pen with a lion at the zoo. But don't worry, the lion is fine.
But I'd call Deliver Us From Evil atmospheric, rather than scary. It takes place in a kind of mythical Bronx, where everything is gritty and insane violence is everywhere. It always rains in this Bronx, and the buildings are dark and decaying. (Bana does his best to put on a New York accent, but his broad "Noo Yawk" stylings are another reason this movie is hard to take seriously at times.)
But the chemistry between Bana and Ramirez absolutely works, and provides this movie with an emotional center. Sarchie was raised Catholic but abandoned his faith at age 12, and now he's an angry, bitter bruiser who doesn't really believe in anything. Father Mendoza (Ramirez) is a former heroin addict who went off the rails after the first time he performed an exorcism.
Watching these two open up to each other and admit their mistakes and their failures as adults is by far the most interesting part of the movie, and it hints at the much better movie that this could have become, if the horror trappings had been stronger and more original. Probably, this movie was hamstrung a bit by the "based on a true story" thing — truth isn't always stranger than fiction.
Director Scott Derrickson loves his damaged men who neglect their families. Sarchie is more or less cut from the same cloth as Ethan Hawke's character in Derrickson's previous film, Sinister. Except that Sarchie is less of a selfish jerk and more of a tortured soul, and it shouldn't be too much of a spoiler to mention that Sarchie finds Jesus in Deliver Us From Evil. So Derrickson's movie version of Dr. Strange will probably be a self-absorbed dick... which seems about right, really.
In general, this film seems kind of random, which has its good points. The casting is hilarious. Community's Joel McHale plays Sarchie's partner, a randomly jerky cop who insists on wearing a Red Sox cap around New York just so he can get into more pointless fights. Watching Jeff Winger get excited about busting heads never gets old. Also, Olivia Munn is Sarchie's long-suffering wife, and she manages to hold her own in a few of the scenes of Bana being a bad husband.
It's impossible not to compare this lukewarm effort to The Conjuring, another horror movie that was based on a true story and featured people of faith using their religious beliefs to fight possession. And the sheer inventiveness and warmth of The Conjuring stands in stark contrast to this film's general lassitude. The scares just aren't as clever here, nor are most of the characters as compelling. Given how central exorcisms are to this type of movie, it makes sense to delve into religion and faith — but where The Conjuring made faith feel complex and difficult, Deliver Us ultimately serves up something much more pat.
And without giving too much away, Deliver Us From Evil ends with a whimper rather than a bang. A lot of horror movies seem to have a hard time providing a really satisfying ending — either they survive or they don't, and either path is often kind of underwhelming. But this movie's ending is especially flat. Satan really didn't bring his "A" game this time, even if he did provide an excuse for some decent male bonding.