Deliver Us From Evil
Starring Eric Bana, Joel McHale, Edgar Ramirez and Olivia Munn.
Directed by Scott Derrickson
From Screen Gems and Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Deliver Us From Evil; Return to Sender
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
Deep into Deliver Us From Evil, two police detectives are searching an apartment complex for a demon-possessed Iraq War veteran. One of the men, an Australian with a bad Bronx accent, turns to the other man and tells him, “We should split up.”
Obviously no one here has actually seen a horror movie. And that’s the problem with any horror flick: the audience is always smarter than the characters. In Deliver Us From Evil’s case, the intelligence gap is especially noticeable considering these characters aren’t horny teens vacationing at an abandoned cabin in the woods, but veteran detectives who presumably graduated the police academy without shooting their hands off or wrapping their cruiser around a telephone pole in the parking lot.
The cops are Sarchie (Eric Bana), the “we should split up” genius, and Butler (Joel McHale), who’s backward hat bro-ness wouldn’t cut it in a Limp Bizkit video. They cruise the New York streets waiting for the ping of Sarchie’s detective radar, his internal WTF-locator. It starts pinging a lot around three combat veterans from Iraq who may have brought a dark curse back from the warzone. And “dark curse” isn’t a metaphor for PTSD; they actually bring a stupid superstitious demon back with them. The demon is activated when it sees a Latin curse written on pretty much any surface. As luck would have it, two of the soldiers started a painting company after their tours in Iraq, which means they can start painting the curse all around town, but mostly in dank basements, creaky-floored Brownstones and — oh, you know, wherevs — the freakin’ lion enclosure at the zoo.
Bana is a likeable enough guy. He has the face of an everyman, and the seriousness of someone who wouldn’t put up with the events of Deliver Us. But in walks Sarchie to every terrible horror cliche the movie can hit before some unseen buzzer goes off and points are tallied. Cats hiss and jump, lights flicker, flashlights go dead, bathtub water spins and churns, mirrored doors are closed, a piano is tickled in the dark … at one point a Jack in the Box turns up with terrifying motives. This is pretty much the most basic horror package. These gags are sold in bulk at Costco.
Nevertheless, the film unspools ever forward, the mismatched pairing of Seven and The Exorcist. Edgar Ramirez turns up as some kind of defrocked exorcist priest, who’s too handsome and cool for the priesthood, but there he is in a 30-minute exorcism listening to The Doors (it’s the demon’s favorite band) as some poor actor has to say vile things in a gurgly voice. And why do demons talk like the Cookie Monster? A demon with Sam Cooke’s voice could pretty much conquer the world, but apparently they haven’t figured that out yet. And speaking of demons, have you seen those hilarious Bob Larson videos? This movie should have hired those actors.
Deliver Us From Evil is written and directed by Scott Derrickson, who has a lot of experience with horror films, including Sinister, The Devil’s Knot and the The Exorcism of Emily Rose. His career makes a strong case for a theory I’ve long championed: every director should make one horror film, but no director should make two. Kubrick, Spielberg, Scorsese, Friedkin … they’ve all made contributions to the genre, and yet they’ve never repeated themselves simply because they only made one of them. Now here’s Derrickson, whose entire career has exploited the same jump scares that look pretty much identical from movie to movie. He’s not doing horror any favors by diluting its features.
But horror sells, they’re cheap to produce, and easy to make. And judging by the scripts, they’re green-lit with a shrug from a studio head — “eh, whatever.” By those standards, Deliver Us From Evil is exactly what you’d expect with a modern horror movie. And by that I mean it’s weak and irrelevant.