Review: Solid Scares Keep 'Deliver Us from Evil' Strong in Tired Genre
by Jeremy Kirk
July 2, 2014
There's really not a lot that can be done with paranormal thrillers these days. With the recent slate of bland possession movies and the Paranormal Activity juggernaut annually dulling the bump-in-the-night brand of horror, it takes a certain angle at the sub-genre or a top-notch style of delivering the thrills for a film to really play in the haunted sandbox. Luckily, there are those entries that realize the ways in which to keep a fresh game in a stale ballpark, Deliver Us from Evil being the latest of these. Part gritty-NYPD procedural, part sinister-entity horror, the film nails every tone and hits every scare with results that should satisfy any and all downtrodden, horror fans. Thankfully, there are still films that can keep us up at night.
That gritty-NYPD procedural revolves around Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), a New York City cop who sees all manner of horrors running through the rainy, grimy streets. Sarchie has, as the saying goes, seen some shit. He spends so much time dealing with the awful pain he sees day-in and day-out that its effecting his job of keeping the pain away from his wife (Oliva Munn) and daughter. Trouble really gets into gear for Sarchie when what, at first, appears to be a coincidence of events reveals itself as something more sadistic and otherworldly. Needless to say, things begin to go bump in Sarchie's nights. Very loud and effective bumps.
That's where director Scott Derrickson has always succeeded. Even in 2005, when his The Exorcism of Emily Rose hit theaters, the audience for straightforward, exorcism horror had become all too familiar with the sub-genres cavalcade of tropes. There, too, Derrickson uncovers the ways in which to make the supernatural scary again, by grounding it as much as possible while still keeping its paranormal edge. Emily Rose is more a courtroom drama with frequent, sudden pangs of horror, moments that jolt you out of your seat and back into the reality that what you're watching is only a movie. Or is it?
With Deliver Us from Evil, that "Or is it?" joke is all the more legitimate. Sarchie, not only a character on the page, was a real NYPD cop, the film inspired by his actual experiences with the occult during his time on the force. While the screenplay, written by Derrickson and Emily Rose writing collaborator, Paul Harris Boardman, never plainly says it's based on actual events, simply the notion of realness in it's protagonist and his encounters with the paranormal keep the film's atmosphere thick and foreboding, its jump-scares even more effective than the director's previous work. There's nothing groundbreaking or clever to Derrickson's bolts of horror here - He even works in a cat-scare just to make sure all the tropes are covered - but execution is 90% of the effectiveness when it comes to this type of scare. This director, for one, knows how to handle them.
That dark atmosphere is laid on even thicker when Deliver Us from Evil's horrors are of the natural world. Kudos to Derrickson for depicting the real-world terrors in his film with as much nerve as he does those of the supernatural variety, more so in some instances. You have to give credit to the director, as well, for casting one of the best everymen in the business. Bana is solid in just about every role he takes, big or small, indie or blockbuster. Here, he brings out the real drama in Sarchie's story, as effective during moments of intensity as he is in quietly dramatic scenes with his family.
He charges ahead of a secondary cast that brings it's own strengths, as well: Édgar Ramírez handily filling the role of Catholic priest and exposition-provider; Sean Harris bringing his own brand of creepy to the subject of Sarchie's investigation; and Munn, who, despite having little to do beyond a few, dramatic scenes with Bana, provides real emotion in the time she's given. Joel McHale, playing Sarchie's gung-ho, adrenaline-addicted partner, is out of place, the lone comedic relief in a world of hurt and darkness regardless of how funny the actor really is.
However, McHale is an aspect to Deliver Us from Evil that succeeds in sheer execution, a good way of describing the film as a whole, really. It drives ahead at a break-neck intensity, and, though the final act slips into more familiar, possession/exorcism territory, it never loses its grip on the heightened suspense. Derrickson has proved himself as a director who can effortlessly scare without going into overtime on creativity. Deliver Us from Evil isn't a film that will revitalize a long-stagnant design for horror, but it proves that even the most cobwebby of old houses can still deal out some killer creeks.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10
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