In 1973, director William Friedkin released The Exorcist, a film that changed the horror movie landscape forever. Friedkin succeeded in scaring the pants off of millions of viewers, but unfortunately, he did not foresee one unintended consequence: copycats. In the forty years since The Exorcist, horror fans have been subjected to countless exorcism and possession films, some good, most bad. The last few years have seen an especially large number of these sprout up, and this summer, we had another entry into the possession pantheon: Deliver Us From Evil. Unfortunately, you won’t need an exorcism after the film to try and forget it; it’s forgettable enough as it is.
Deliver Us From Evil isn’t a straight-up possession flick; it also doubles as a crime drama. It stars Eric Bana as NYPD officer Ralph Sarchie, a no-nonsense cop with a dark past (stop me if you’ve heard this before). While investigating a series of crimes, he begins to think there’s more than meets the eye to these incidents. And Father Mendoza, a chain-smoking priest, is pointing the finger at a possession. Spooky!
Scott Derrickson, also responsible for 2012’s Sinister, is at the helm, and the whole thing feels like a missed opportunity for him. Derrickson already explored the exorcism sub-genre to great effect with The Exorcism of Emily Rose back in 2005, but he doesn’t bring much new to the table here. The cop-drama-meets-demonic-possession-film set-up is promising enough, but the cop drama portions float by without being particularly attention-grabbing and the possession portions are been-there-done-that.
I will concede that the film is watchable. Bana and Edgar Ramirez (playing Father Mendoza) have fun in their cliché lead roles. There are a couple relatively well-done scare scenes, helped out by the above-average score by Christopher Young (who did great work on Sinister). And watching Community star Joel McHale play a knife-wielding Bronx cop is quite entertaining, even if it’s a head-scratching casting decision.
But these moments do nothing to quell the déjà vu, and when the film dives head-first into exorcism territory, you just have to wonder if anyone is still excited to see yet another grossly contorting figure spewing Latin (and judging by Evil‘s ultra-poor box office receipts, it seems like the answer is no). The film does a good job at avoiding these cliché sequences for a while, but then squanders it all by ending on an overlong, lame exorcism climax. Sigh.
Derrickson also takes the whole thing too seriously. From start to finish, Evil is dark and dreary, from its cinematography to its unnecessary child murder plot points. It’s always raining in the film, and indeed, making your way through the two hours of Deliver Us From Evil feels like trudging home in a downpour. It would’ve benefitted a ton from a more pulpy, less serious feel, but it’s just kind of a bummer instead.
There’s not that much wrong with Deliver Us From Evil, but there’s really not much reason to watch it either. I expected more from Derrickson after his masterful Sinister. The possession thing’s been done worse (a real exorcism would be preferable to watching The Devil Inside), but the whole sub-genre needs a new breath of life and this isn’t it.
Zach Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.