I’ve been thinking about this review for the past two weeks, so I guess you could say that it’s been haunting me. But, with the film’s release merely hours away at the time of this writing, I have to finally put pen to paper. Let’s see how it goes.
With Deliver Us From Evil writer/director Scott Derrickson (sharing a screenplay credit with Paul Harris Boardman) has delivered a hugely ambitious horror film that (largely successfully) sets out to balance supernatural horror with a gritty widescreen police procedural. It’s a film that works in many ways, but I emerged from my screening split down the middle. I had been looking forward to this movie for over a year since visiting the set, and what I wanted it to be kept butting up against what it actually is. As a fan of the imagery and tone of Sinister (Derrickson’s prior film), I was looking forward to a bigger budget extrapolation of that exact aesthetic. And that’s not what Deliver Us From Evil is.
But is Deliver Us From Evil good on its own terms? Mostly. From a technical standpoint, it is certainly better constructed than most horror movies. It also follows through on its thematic intent with a clarity that’s lacking in most genre films. But it still kept me at arm’s length. It’s hard to chalk this up to any one element though some of the film’s expository dialogue lands poorly and there’s a music cue at the end that robs a climactic scene of some of its mysticism. There’s also a great Indiana Jones character beat that’s paid off and then set up, which kind of made me gnash my teeth at the missed opportunity. But, ultimately, at 118 minutes, there’s simply too much stuff that works “well enough” intermingling with the stuff that actually works really well. It’s this oscillation between compelling and competent that lends Deliver a somewhat lurching quality that I couldn’t quite embrace.
The good news is that the stuff that’s compelling is truly effective. An opening raid on Iraq (a nice hat tip to The Exorcist that also manages to achieve its own significance) is excitingly staged and provides a more epic sense of scope than you’d expect. And, as with Sinister, there’s no shortage of haunting and effective imagery. Almost any scene with Sean Harris (playing a discharged veteran who didn’t quite emerge from Iraq the way he went in) pops with admirable menace. There’s a decency and compassion in the handling of Eric Bana’s arc (playing a fictionalized version of Sergeant Ralph Sarchie) that I really admired. And the buddy cop element works almost exactly as you’d expect in a Jerry Bruckheimer production, which is to say brisk and fun.
As I said earlier, I left Deliver Us From Evil split down the middle to the extent that I wanted to see it again to truly find out which side of the fence I fell on. While I haven’t been able to make that happen, two weeks have passed and I’m not mad at it the way I normally am with films that betray the audience or take them for granted. Deliver Us From Evil isn’t lazy. Its aim is true. And it has enough good, nasty stuff bubbling up inside of it to recommend to the vast majority of horror fans. I have a nagging suspicion most of you guys will embrace it and wonder what the hell my problem is.