I’m declaring Scott Derrickson a director to keep tabs on after his latest effort, Deliver Us From Evil. We’re guided through dimly lit New York City by Eric Bana as he hunts for clues about a manic mother, missing combat vets, and a guy in a hoodie who looks like the dude from Blade 2 and Hellboy 2, but isn’t. This summer’s horror tentpole isn’t as good as the trailers want you to believe, actually it’s more of a thriller than a horror film, but I do cautiously recommend it for a rainy afternoon.
Let me say it outright – the script is awful. Some of the dialogue was seemingly ghostwritten by a junior high drama club, and many of the plot points seem to have been cut and pasted from outlines of the staples of the genre. You can easily predict the general arc of the story and which characters will fall prey to untimely gruesome demises. Yet, despite all this, Derrickson and his troupe keep the viewer interested and invested.
Much like Derrickson’s previous effort, Sinister, sound effects play a key role in muddying the atmosphere and ramping up the tension. He and his sound crew really pull you in to the routine sets and story and immerse you in an unsettling way. In less capable hands, this film would have been a complete bore, but the script has been mined and stripped to a primal level and the stereophonics are scaffolded around it to create a much stronger and direct impact on the viewer. Very masterful work here indeed.
Edgar Ramirez—who Derrickson could be grooming as Marvel’s Doctor Stephen Strange (he’s directing that, as well)—is the real shining star of the film. We’re all sick of tortured priests saving wayward souls; it’s been done. But Ramirez brings a soft subtlety that explodes with sincere passion when his servant of Christ is called to battle. The effortlessness with which he delivers Latin ritual recitations gives me great hope to hear him utter more mumbo jumbo as the Sorcerer Supreme.
Eric Bana, of whom I’ve been a fan since Chopper, puts forth a good effort towards his paint-by-numbers role as the lead officer Sarchie, who is a real retired cop, and actually wrote the memoir upon which the film is based. Bana is intense as usual, but I wouldn’t say that his contribution here is as essential as Ramirez’s or Derrickson’s and his sound crew. I’m glad to see him get a lead part again, after a long stretch of supporting roles as penance for his part in Ang Lee’s Hulk (which was an awesome treatise on Freud, but I digress).
Mild spoiler alert – I did appreciate the respect and care taken when depicting the possessed victims of the demons. In the opening scene we see US troops stumbling on a crypt and awakening something within. (And if you’re interested in demonic possession of war veterans, find and read Demon Camp by Jennifer Percy. Darn, digression again.) The vets’ struggle with their ungodly hitchhiker isn’t quite as profound as little Reagan’s, but time and effort is spent to remind the audience that these are victims, not villains.
So, you could do much worse than Deliver Us From Evil. Its two hours move quickly, and it’ll give you some jumps and laughs. It’s not the reinvention of the horror genre, but it’s an enjoyable routine entry.
3.5 stars out of 5.