Title: Deliver Us From Evil
Genre(s): Crime, Horror, Thriller
Director(s): Scott Derrickson
Release Year: 2014
The interesting thing with a lot of good horror films, are that they recognize what a generic horror film is. In fact, many still bathe in a bad horror film’s tropes. Buried underneath the goat’s blood, holy water, exorcisms, crucifixes, and constant stupidity, is a kernel of something clever, though. Sometimes the film lets that unique twist flourish into something whole, or they just have it there as a means of providing one moment to fawn over. Deliver Us from Evil is interesting because inside its classic possession/ritualistic tale are a slew of kernels of a different movie. They wind up as tonal inconsistencies more than moments you enjoy, but there’s something admirable about Scott Derrickson’s attempt to subvert the horror genre in so many unique ways.
The beginning of a horror film is predictable, yet always acts as a form of comfort. That initial killing or freaky circumstance sets the tone for the film and reminds the viewer that they will get their screams. When a horror film opens with a bunch of soldiers running through the deserts of Iraq as explosions detonate all over the screen, something unique is attempting to unfurl. Deliver Us from Evil tries so hard to unfurl from a standard horror film into this weird crime noir/action/horror hybrid that it can’t figure out how to meld each genre together. As the atmosphere tries to be set, action scenes ruin the creepiness, and those action scenes are ruined by weird comedic moments that do not jive with the noir elements of the film’s main character.
Eric Bana stars in this tonally inconsistent film as a brooding detective, drenched in both rain and film noir sensibilities. As a detective for the New York Police Department, Ralph Sarchie (Bana) exudes all the traits of a noir protagonist, most important of which being the flawed hero. The way Deliver Us from Evil uses his dark past to create an analog to the horror genre is exciting, but the movie fails to do much with it. The abnormal priest, Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), is a formidable ally for Sarchie as he himself garners a dark secret. The camaraderie between the two is kept to a minimum, with moments of shared personal experiences that make their relationship slightly more palpable, though barely. There are many moments within Deliver Us from Evil that demonstrate how Derrickson and co-writer Paul Harris Boardman want to bridge the gap between the noir and the horror, understanding that the two genres can have a meeting point. Unfortunately, both genres are almost treated separate from one another, yet within the same film. And when they do surface, it is undercut by the inexplicable decision to incorporate comedy into the mix.
Perhaps it was not the intention to make a movie with so many comedic moments (though casting Joel McHale as an adrenaline junkie cop sure seems like an attempt otherwise), but the end product is something tonally weird. As mentioned, McHale is in this film, and it bothered me only because I could see why he was cast but that the film delivered did not have the intended effect. Twice in the film, he pulls out a knife to get that aforementioned adrenaline high, but he never succeeds in proving his worth as anything more than comedic relief. Even a joke by Bana’s character pokes fun at McHale himself, calling him a “bad actor”. To have him making one-liners during scenes intended to build atmosphere is a terrible decision. But a decision that seems to be made in an attempt to both build the relationship between Sarchie and himself, as well as lend to the more absurd comedic elements. Such as a song by The Doors being inexplicably linked to the demon that Sarchie is hunting; or the priest whose entire dialogue for the first half of the film is nothing but horror tropes; and the cop who watches an exorcism and his only reaction is a mixture of disbelief and expletives.
I was a huge advocate for Sinister when it came out, and still recommend it as one of the highlights of horror in the past decade. It did what a good horror film does: slightly tweak the formula. The problem with Deliver Us from Evil is that when it tries to tweak the formula, it does so in a very in-your-face manner, drawing attention to itself and not letting the viewer figure out intricacies on their own. The final act of the film was actually the highlight for me, as it had the action scene which it seemed to desperately want to perform, the obligatory exorcism that was beautifully edited and had some of the best sound mixing in a recent horror film, and the strengthening of the relationships introduced throughout the film. However, none of these moments work together as a whole. I wanted to love Deliver Us from Evil a lot. But every moment that I laughed or got sucked into the character and atmosphere, I was immediately taken out by the moments of inspired, yet deliberate subversion. When the best parts of your horror movie are the parts that aren’t horror, you’ve done something both interesting and wrong.