With only two films under his belt, not including the Day the Earth Stood Still remake, Scott Derrickson has provided a unique voice in the world of horror cinema. With The Exorcism of Emily Rose and later Sinister, he takes some familiar concepts and tries to put a fresh and interesting twist to it. While the reactions to his films have been somewhat divisive, there is a lot of promise showing for Scott Derrickson as a director. His latest film is Deliver Us from Evil, based on the book, Beware the Night, which itself is based on the accounts of NYPD officer Ralph Sarchie.
Deliver Us from Evil stars Eric Bana as Ralph Sarchie, a decorated officer who seems to have more to him than meets the eye. While investigating a series of supposedly connected cases, he finds himself working with an unconventional priest, Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), in order to fight forces beyond his imagination.
To give you an idea of what kind of film Deliver Us from Evil is like, imagine if Se7en and The Exorcist III made sweet love, and this is what you get as a result. I’m not gonna say that DUFE is as good as either Se7en or The Exorcist III, but Scott Derrickson delivers enough to make the ride worth it. As shown from last year’s Sinister, Scott Derrickson continues to be a master at creating an unsettling and moody atmosphere. The film takes great advantage of its Bronx setting, it’s always raining, it’s dirty, dark, congested, and everything looks old and run-down. As if the streets of New York weren’t creepy enough, Scott Derrickson had to throw demons into the mix.
One thing that I like about Scott Derrickson’s writing is how well he crafts his lead characters. He doesn’t hold back when it comes to pushing his characters to dark places. They’re not perfect, they have vices and deep-rooted issues that they are forced to confront. Eric Bana plays (what is obviously) a fictionalized version of Ralph Sarchie. He sees terrible things every day that he keeps bottled-up and hidden from his family, and as a result he becomes very distant from them. Mendoza spends a good chunk of the film trying to get Ralph to open up. It builds up to what becomes the best sequence in the entire film, and it’s oddly similar to how the silent 8mm footage scene in Sinister stuck out. It’s a flashback sequence that was shot in a way that looks like it could’ve been on the same reel as the Zapruder film. It reveals a truth regarding a case that Ralph is famous for amongst his peers, and it is a dark and haunting scene played brilliantly by Eric Bana. I also like how Ralph’s battle with his personal demons coincides with his investigation with the “real” demons intensifies. It adds a level of human depth to the film in a way you don’t see too often in horror.
The problems with the film lie mostly with the script by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman (who also co-wrote The Exorcism of Emily Rose). It doesn’t quite have the momentum that the story seems to require. There are points where tension really builds up very well, but the entire film remains at a slow and steady pace. A slow burn is fine, but when as the script builds towards the climax, it keeps pacing like it’s only the beginning of the second act. There’s even a point where it felt like I was watching the final showdown, but then the film kept going. Granted, ending it there would have left Ralph’s arc unfinished, so I’m glad it kept going, but it reveals an awkward sense of structure. It’s not a very tight screenplay to say the least, which is a shame since Sinister had a very tight and concise script.
Performances aside from Eric Bana are largely unimpressive. No one stands out as bad, but no one shines. Olivia Munn plays the typical wife-of-a-cop character, and she had little to no personality to speak of, which only added to the fact that she has nothing to do the entire film. The child actress did a decent job, but was mostly unmemorable. Edgar Ramirez started off strong, but then you realize that he is speaking in the same monotone way the entire film. The other cops in the film are also unmemorable except one who gets a nice and humorous moment in the climax. The only real exception to the lackluster supporting cast is Joel McHale. He plays Ralph’s partner, Butler. Butler is an adrenaline junkie, a tough guy who is very sarcastic and likes to use his knives when given the opportunity. At first, this felt odd, but as the film went on, I was genuinely surprised by how good his performance was and how well he sold his physicality. He did a lot of workout to prepare for the film and it really shows. To top it all off, it’s nice to see a bit of range from Joel McHale, who has mostly been limited to comedic roles. I’d really like to see him do more roles like this.
One aspect of the film that many are not too fond of is the jump scares. Honestly, it was hard for me to complain about it considering I had to sit through The Quiet Ones, and Deliver Us from Evil is nothing when it comes to the number of jump scares in The Quiet Ones. Regardless, there are a number of jump scares in the film. Some are well done, some are not. Oddly enough, just past the half-way point, the number of jump scares went down and the film focused more on mood and tension. Honestly, I thought Sinister had more consistent jump scares than this (at least this one had the common courtesy to not end on a jump scare for no reason). Either way, I can still see why some aren’t warming up to the film. There were also some moments in the film that, in the right mood, could cause some unintentional laughter. Be it silly moments that come out of nowhere or the number of scenes that have already been done to death in other horror films in the past.
Deliver Us from Evil is a film I really enjoyed, admittedly, for mostly aesthetic reasons. I really like the use of a modern, urban landscape to tell a story about the supernatural. Scott Derrickson’s dark and moody atmosphere is achieved through some great cinematography by Scott Kevan, wonderful music by Christopher Young and some really good editing by Jason Hellman. The make-up and effects work are a knockout, Eric Bana delivers a fantastic performance as he usually does, and Joel McHale shines in a surprising supporting turnout. While the actual scares in the film are not as original as the premise might promise, I think the overall execution is a solid enough film to work on its own terms. I can really just boil it down to this—if you think that that the idea of using music from The Doors as a recurring motif and plot point to show a presence of a demon due to them opening a gateway to hell (logic being gateway=door=The Doors) is a stupid and possibly hilarious concept, then the film is not going to work for you. If that sounds interesting or unique, then give the film a shot, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Side Note: So, Scott Derrickson next project will be Two Eyes Staring, which he will direct and co-write with Paul Harris Boardman. It is a remake of the 2010 Dutch horror film of the same name, and this one has Charlize Theron slated for a role. After that, Scott Derrickson will probably be busy working on a little project called Dr. Strange, which will most likely be a part of Phase Three in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a risk in the same way Guardians of the Galaxy is in the sense that it will explore a different aspect of the universe, this time dealing with the magical and mystical elements. I, for one, consider Scott Derrickson to be a very inspired choice to direct the film; I’m glad to see his talent being recognized and I’m excited to see what he can bring with a big budget project.