Aw c’mon, guys, it wasn’t that bad.
While I admit that Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil failed to pack the punch I was hoping for, I’m gobsmacked over the amount of flak it’s getting from critics. The film currently has a 32 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which bums me out because I feel that although it might not be successful on all fronts, the film is admirable as hell for trying to do something different within the constraints of the exorcism genre. In this article I wanna address some of the arguments critics have made against the film.
(spoilers follow, duh)
As a recovering Catholic, the use of demonic elements will always give me the willies. It never fails. Even though I don’t believe in a Devil, the fear of one is so ingrained in me that exorcism films (even shitty ones like The Devil Inside) will affect me at least a little. What makes Deliver Us From Evil more effective than others is that Derrickson (along with his co-writer Paul Harris Boardman) grounds the supernatural elements strongly in reality. Horror-procedural hybrids have been done before (Angel Heart comes to mind), but this is the first time I can remember recently where one took its supernatural elements so damn seriously. And not since The Exorcist back in 1973 has a possession film felt so much like it existed in the real world. Maybe The Entity, but that was more demonic molestation.
Derrickson has stated in interviews that he is in fact a man of faith, which definitely comes through in this film. Not just because of that preachy bit at the end at Sarchie’s kid’s baptism, but because of the consistently solemn tone in regards to the spiritual battle between good and evil Sarchie and Mendoza embark on. It’s way more absorbing and wholehearted than an exorcism movie needs to be.
Some of the negative reviews I’ve read of the film call its story disjointed and incohesive. That’s an argument I really don’t understand. At first it may feel like Sarchie and his partner Butler are aimlessly driving around the Bronx, taking random calls, but quickly it becomes apparent that it’s all a thread leading up to Sarchie’s spiritual journey. The dead baby in the alley, the domestic dispute, the infant-throwing at the zoo – it’s all connected to help Sarchie come to terms with the “true evil” Mendoza speaks of. Sarchie’s seen so much horrible shit in the “sewer” (as he refers to his job) that it reinforces Mendoza’s argument. He goes from disbelieving in God because of the shit he’s seen to recognizing it all as a sign of true evil. And it all really feels organic thanks in part to Eric Bana’s solid performance (despite that sketchy NY accent).
I’ve also heard critics bitch about the pace, that it takes too long to really have any thrust. This I disagree with too. The story is structured like a police procedural, so it purposefully lacks that aggressive pace in the beginning. We’ve seen the trailer, poster, commercials, etc., so we know what’s going on. Sarchie doesn’t so he’s got to use his detective skills and Popeye muscles to figure shit out. It’s a really interesting way to tell an exorcism story, much more compelling than someone getting possessed, then exorcised, roll credits. One critic I read even complained that the exorcism takes place at the end of the film. Say whaaa? That’s when it goes down in pretty much all of the exorcism films I’ve ever seen, so unless they’re complaining about it being a cliche, I really don’t get it.
Another common complaint was funny man Joel McHale playing a jacked up knife-enthusiast cop “adrenaline junkie.” Okay, with you on this one. It’s really tough to see past McHale, the sarcastic, dry-witted comedian that he is. I didn’t buy him at times either. There’s no denying the bro chemistry between him and Bana on screen though. They were entirely believable as partners, guys who have probably been driving around at night for years, using humor to cope with the sick side of humanity they witness every shift. During his brawl with Santino in the stairwell is the only time I could see past McHale and felt like I was watching the character of Butler. Once he realizes he can’t win, there was some goddamn conviction in McHale’s performance. I felt sorry for the macho bastard.
The one major complaint I wholeheartedly agree with is the use of The Doors as a major plot point. It would’ve been fine to bring up once or twice to help Sarchie connect the case of Jane to the others, but using it during the climactic exorcism scene was miserable. Once Jim Morrison’s heroin-fueled voice rang out, it totally broke the thick supernatural feel of the moment. Speaking of the exorcism scene, holy crap. That was a helluva process. I love that there were stages to it and that both Sarchie and the demon-fighting veteran Mendoza slipped during the incident, almost falling prey to Santino’s manipulation.
People bitched about Olivia Munn too and while I agree she’s not the greatest actress, she wasn’t given all that much to do.
Yes, Deliver Us From Evil is filled with cliches and elements we’ve seen countless times in exorcism and cop films, but Derrickson presents them a truly refreshing and serious way. Even the impossibly tired “your job is consuming your life and your ignoring your family and by the way I’m pregant” trope that seemingly every big screen detective goes through feels imaginative here against the backdrop of the supernatural. Before completely dismissing it based on the wave of negative reviews, I suggest checking it out. Exorcism films with big releases have been pretty lame lately (The Devil Inside, Devil’s Due), but Deliver Us From Evil is definitely a fresh and compelling take with atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a spoon.