The film will likely lose more than a few secular critics.
Scott Derrickson has had a pretty good run as a writer/director in the horror genre. After breaking onto the scene with Hellraiser: Inferno, one of the only watchable sequels in that far too long running franchise, Derrickson went on to make paranormal crowd pleasers such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. (Yes, I skipped over the disappointing remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, but Derrickson didn’t write it and it wasn’t horror, so why don’t we just forget about that one for right now? Please?)
With such a cinematic track record to his credit, Derrickson has proven he’s a guy who knows how to craft a creepy scene.
Along with his skills as a filmmaker, there are also other things which make Derrickson interesting to someone like myself who reviews movies for a faith-based outlet. As it turns out, Derrickson is one of the few mainstream directors currently working in Hollywood who doesn’t mind putting his Christian faith front and center in his films.
In a 2010 interview with Film School Rejects, Derrickson explained, “I think my attraction to science fiction and horror is that they invite religious exploration in ways that other genres don’t, and when religion is paired with horror or sci-fi, a lot of typical religious baggage falls away. It’s also important for me to not feel that my thoughts and feelings about spirituality must be compartmentalized creatively. I want that part of my life and interest to be a part of my creative process.”
So, given the success of his past films combined with his overtly religious worldview, it’s hard not to carry a few expectations into Derrickson’s latest effort, Deliver Us From Evil, especially given the movie’s subject matter.
The film is loosely (and I mean very loosely) inspired by Beware the Night, the book which purports to detail the real life investigations into the paranormal by seven times decorated NYPD officer Ralph Sarchie. A lapsed Catholic, Sarchie’s confrontations with the supernatural would eventually drive him to retire from the police force in order to pursue a calling as a demonologist and sometimes assistant in exorcisms to the well-known sedeprivationist “Bishop” Robert McKenna. With that kind of source material, how could a faith based movie reviewer resist seeing this movie?
The film does start out pretty much like one would expect. After a brief prologue set in the Middle East where three soldiers discover something in a strange cave, the movie jumps to New York City where Sarchie (Eric Bana) and his partner, Butler (Community’s Joe McHale), spend their evenings patrolling and following up on Sarchie’s never failing “hunches” regarding the calls which come over their police scanner. It’s while responding to one such a call at The Bronx Zoo where a mother, apparently at the bidding of a mysterious hooded man, has thrown her toddler into the lion enclosure, that the pair first run across the rather unorthodox Father Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez).
As the police watch the obviously disturbed mother claw at the ground and recite lyrics from Doors songs (a recurring theme in the movie sure to aggravate Morrison fans), the plain-clothed priest (yes, he’s a Jesuit) implies there is more to the incident than just a case of mental illness, but refuses to elaborate. After a few more related occurrences involving the hooded figure, however, Mendoza comes clean and suggests to Sarchie that demonic forces may be at work in the city, an explanation the faithless policemen is loathe to consider despite the growing evidence. It’s only when those forces begin to follow Sarchie back to his already troubled home that Sarchie starts to take the priest seriously. All in all, it’s a fairly standard setup for an exorcism movie, which is fine considering Derrickson’s past success with that kind of story.