Writer/director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister) sees his new, ambitious horror film Deliver Us From Evil hit theaters tomorrow, July 2nd. The film stars Eric Bana, Joel McHale, Olivia Munn, Edgar Ramirez and Sean Harris.
By the time I saw Deliver Us From Evil it had been almost a year since I visited the set of the film. And… without getting into a review (still working on that one), I was mixed. There’s a whole lot to like about the film and I think Derrickson takes some interesting risks, but it didn’t click for me 100% right away. I say this not to steer you away from the movie (I think most of you guys will really like it), but to give you some context for the following interview, because it starts out with a conversation I wasn’t expecting to have.
Derrickson had heard that I was mixed on the film, and he brought it up. I don’t think he jumped on the phone expecting to have this conversation either, it just kind of came about organically. What follows is easily one of the most frank interviews I’ve ever conducted, and therefore one of my favorites. In the interest of full disclosure I should note that Derrickson and I are on friendly terms. We don’t hang out socially, but we occasionally discuss books and movies via email and this conversation actually felt a little bit like an extension of that.
I’m having kind of a Scott Derrickson week actually. I just watched Devil’s Knot on Netflix.
How was that?
I liked it.
So you liked Devil’s Knot and not Deliver Us From Evil?
What do you mean?
I had heard that you’re not a big fan of Deliver Us From Evil.
There’s a lot about it that I like. And I certainly respect it because I know what your intentions were with it. There are just some elements that didn’t work for me.
Believe me, I don’t mean to put you on the spot. I am plenty comfortable with this conversation. This is what we do. Those of us who talk online about movies, this is what we do.
My issues, and this is still a movie I support, are with some exposition and tonal stuff. The Doors thing at the end threw me a bit, even though you were building to it in the rest of the film.
Are you talking about in the exorcism?
I almost pulled that out. It’s in there for a very short amount of time. So far everyone seems to like all the Doors stuff but, for whatever it’s worth, that’s something that the test screenings proved people genuinely liked. So I left it in. But I also had mixed feelings about it.
I do like the “People Are Strange” moment in the hallway quite a bit.
That’s my favorite use of it. That’s the one I was the most protective of. That and the end credits.
It’s the kind of movie that’s super ambitious and I may need to see it again before I can soak it all in.
I think the thing I would say about it, and this is a good jumping off point for the discussion – and this is where I’ll disagree with you – is that it definitely achieves what I was going for. You might not like the target, but I hit the target I was aiming for. When I got into the process of working on this and working on the script with Bruckheimer and coming back to it after several years of being away from it, what became interesting to me was taking a little bit of the kitchen sink mentality. Maybe this is a movie where I can not only cross genres between a police procedural and a horror film, which is the obvious part, but also imbue it with some real action, like the knife fighting. And some real humor. And a 4 minute dialogue conversation about God in a bar between a priest and a cop.
Which I quite liked.
That was the goal. And to do it all in a sort of glossy Bruckheimer date movie kind of way. It’s certainly intended to be a much louder, faster and thrilling kind of horror film than something like Sinister, which is a much more quiet, artful introspective movie.
Absolutely. And before we go further I should note that some of the contrast between my opinions on Devil’s Knot and Deliver is due to expectation. Devil’s Knot is a quiet movie I caught up with on Netflix, whereas Deliver Us From Evil is something I’ve been thinking about since I visited the set a year ago.
Isn’t that the way it is? If only all movies were seen within a certain context.
I didn’t expect for the conversation to start out like this.
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to catch you off guard. I got emailed a thing this morning that had different reactions and I read through them. Because we’re friends and have a history, it doesn’t bother me at all.
Oh so you read the brief thing I sent to Sony after the screening. That had some good stuff in it too.
One of the things I liked was the imagery. Like Sinister, there’s some really striking stuff. Like that shot of Sean at the zoo, and keeping him almost a silent presence through the rest of the film.
A lot of that was designed after Sean had come over from the UK. Casting Sean Harris was probably the best bit of casting I’ve ever done because I cast him without reading him and I cast him off of Harry Brown. And I just knew the guy could do it. And boy does he just deliver in the exorcism scene. The look of him was really just based off of meeting him and seeing up close the angularity of his face and the intensity of who he is. And conceptually, with the character, one of the reasons I was interested in doing the movie is that I was fascinated with the idea of having a character where it’s not the typical possession movie where you have the girl in the bedroom. Where weird paranormal things happen and she gets freakier and twistier. It wasn’t that. It was this man who is calculated and dangerous and lethal. And so, starting with the face paint in Iraq, Sean and I talked about the idea that he was still painting it. That the paint was almost blending with his face.
I had written in the script for him to have body paint when he’s shirtless. And Sean was like, “what if he’s cut himself up?” And I said, “what if he’s carved all of the runes into his body?” And little did we know that was going to be 245 prosthetics. But we just went and did it.
The Bruckheimer element really sticks out to me. I was curious to see how his influence would play beyond protecting you from the studio, but I could feel a stylistic presence as well. To me a lot of the car stuff, a lot of the transitions and a lot of the energy in the first act feel like a Bruckheimer film.
Everything you said, and I’m not just being flattering, is incredibly incisive. Because the things that you name are exactly the things that he really focussed on in the making of and the editing of the movie. The car scenes, the transitions. The speed of the first act, the speed with which you get into the story – that was all incredibly important to him. His quality control is focused on the director of photography, the costume designer, the art director… he was so deeply committed to vetting those people and getting the best ones possible for the budget. The movie’s only like $18million below the line. It feels bigger than it is. But he approached it like he does all of his movies. And I wanted it that way. Because it has all of the horror and suspense and action, I wanted it to have kind of a glossy feel to play off the gritty qualities of the Bronx. That was something we talked about specifically and we definitely achieved it.
I haven’t read “Beware The Night” yet, but I have to imagine the specifics of this film are not present in Sarchie’s book. The Iraq stuff and this particular demon.
It’s all a fictional narrative used to tie together certain mood pieces from his book.
Was that added in your pass on the script?
You know it was actually David Ayer who came up with the Iraq stuff. David Ayer did the first rewrite after my draft in 2003 or 2004. Then there were three writers and a dozen or so drafts over the next 7 or 8 years. Then I came back and read all of those drafts and the Iraq opening was one of the few things that I kept. I thought it was an interesting way to justify the origin of this demonic presence.
It’s a nice tie to The Exorcist in a lot of ways.
Totally. Some people, Jerry included, were a little nervous that it was too direct. People will get it. And Iraq means something different now. This isn’t an excavation, this is an invaded country.
There’s so much going on in the exorcism scene, how did you construct it?
It was very difficult because we were in such a tight space and there were all of these beats we had to get through. We had to control the escalation and pacing of it. The idea was always to make it kind of a boxing arena where these three thoroughbred actors could unleash and do what they do best. I think the big surprise of it was Sean Harris. From the night that we shot the stigmata scene all the way through to him speaking all of those Spanish lines, the guy literally went into a trance. He went into a weird trance state and he was not himself. He was retching between takes and he very was sleep deprived. It was scary. What he was playing was scary, even though he was dying the lines it was really weird. When they were taking off his prosthetics he was speaking in tongues and freaking out the makeup guys. I had them take him home and he fell asleep and, the next morning, he didn’t remember shooting the scene.