by Sherry Lipp
If there’s one thing there’s never been a shortage since the 1973 classic The Exorcist, it’s films about demonic possession. I won’t say it’s not a good topic for horror storytelling but, in some ways, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. There’s a certain set of familiar plot devices all these films seem to cycle through, with the only way to differentiate one from the other is to create interesting characters or a cool twist. Unfortunately, the exorcism film du jour, Deliver Us from Evil, fails to provide either.
Deliver Us from Evil is “based on the true story” (of course) of NYPD cop Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana). One thing that does set this film apart from most exorcism films is that neither Sarchie nor anyone in his family is the one who is possessed. In fact the film gets off to a suitably thrilling start as Sarchie and his partner, Butler (Joel McHale), investigate a series of odd events that are plaguing New York City. Particularly effective is an afterhours search for a woman who had just tossed her toddler into the lion’s den in the Bronx Zoo. But after a tense and quickly paced first act, the film grinds to a halt as Sarchie begins to suspect otherworldly influences on the mysterious crimes.
McHale, who gives a lively performance as Sarchie’s wise-cracking, adrenaline-junkie partner, practically drops out of the film once Sarchie hooks up with Father Mendoza (Èdgar Ramirez). Mendoza is an expert in demonology and also a personal acquaintance of the woman Sarchie and Butler were searching for in the zoo. However, Mendoza’s pre-possession friendship with the woman ultimately doesn’t mean anything to the story. One of the main problems here is that the pieces don’t fit together in an interesting way. The film simply plods through the paces until the inevitable climactic exorcism at the end.
Deliver Us from Evil provides one of the most ludicrous explanations for demonic possession I have seen. The demon enters the victim simply because they read an evil inscription. In this case some servicemen serving in Iraq stumble across the inscription in a cave and bring the demons back home after they are discharged from the military. In a completely manufactured effort to connect all these unrelated pieces together, and to give Sarchie a personal stake in the matter, Sarchie’s wife (Olivia Munn) and young daughter (Lulu Wilson) become targets of the demon. I don’t want to give anything away, but their inclusion in all of this feels forced and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense even in the extraordinary circumstances.
It should also it be mentioned that this film uses the music of The Doors as a motif for demonic possession in this film. The film goes so far as to practically implicate The Doors music as being a conduit for these demons to enter our world. The woman in the zoo mutters lyrics from “Break on Through,” Sarchie sees lyrics quoted on a bathroom mirror, the jukebox in the bar plays a Doors song, and eventually Sarchie begins to hear Doors music in his head. Why? I have no idea. The film offesr no explanation other than the name The Doors might imply an opening to another dimension, as might the lyrics to “Break on Through.” Personally, I found the whole motif odd, somewhat disrespectful to the band and their music, and ultimately inconsequential to the story.
It’s a shame this film fell apart after its fun first act. Every convention has become so familiar in this increasingly overused genre that the film ceases to be scary at all. It’s like the script follows a playbook, with the writer checking off plot points from a list. “That’s step number six,” Father Mendoza calls out as he and Sarchie attempt to rid one of the afflicted of their demon. It’s a good thing these demons follow the rules. Honestly, I have trouble recommending this film even to those who are diehard fans of the genre. I would say the first half is worth watching, and McHale’s performance adds some fun to the film, but it’s not enough to save this dud of a horror film.