DELIVER US FROM EVIL takes place in a horror movie Bronx. It’s all gloomy cinematography of wet streets at night, filthy, decrepit apartments, an ancient Latin invocation carved into walls or flesh. A malevolent demon monster or whatever is spookifying the place, so wherever our hero goes the power cuts out or the light bulbs burn out or they flicker like a strobelight (sometimes for an entire knife fight scene).
Also I think the filmatists are trying to play off of our primal fear of animals, so the Iraq War prologue features tarantulas, a snake and a bat. Another early scene involves a zoo with the animals loose (and lights out, of course) and the heroes get chased by a bunch of lions. Later a major piece of evidence is a security camera tape of a dude talking to a lion. And you got your usual cat scares like in all movies and also a crucified kitten and if you saw the trailer you’ll remember the scene of the hero’s daughter in bed at night getting spooked by her weird hooting owl doll. Sadly that James-Wan-esque scene climaxes with a jack-in-the-box with blood on its face. The ol’ evil clown standby. Boo.
Patrolling this world we have macho NYPD Sergeant Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana). He was raised Catholic, sure, but doesn’t believe in all that mumbo jumbo, etc. He’s renowned by his colleagues for catching a child killer with the first draft name “Marvin the Molester” and punching his face to death. He works too much his wife is pregnant she never sees him when he is home it’s like he’s not even there she never knows if she’s gonna get that call in the middle of the night he missed his daughter’s birthday she cried herself to sleep, all that. But somehow every case he gets connects to this weird supernatural thing with a mysterious guy who walks around acting scary with his Darth Maul hoodie up at all times even though he’s never in the numerous scenes where it’s pouring rain.
Sarchie also has a wiseass partner with seven deadly sins themed tattoos who carries two big knives that he uses to fight suspects instead of guns which in my opinion is not regulation. He’s played by Joel McHale from Community and the local Seattle sketch show that Bill Nye the Science Guy started on, Almost Live!. I know from an interview with director/co-writer Scott Derrickson that McHale has been his best friend for years and supposedly this character is more like the real him than anything he’s ever played. Apparently he really is obsessed with knives and maybe even wears a backwards baseball hat and sleeveless shirts all the time. Still, I had a hard time accepting the funny asshole guy from TV as this David Ayer type character, even when he tried to do an accent.
But he does wear an Alice in Chains t-shirt out of hometown pride so that’s good I think.Of course Sarchie is a skeptic who is slowly taught that actually evil magic is like totally, totally real though. His guide is Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez, ZERO DARK THIRTY), a cool “undercover” priest who wears black leather and smokes and has long hair to pull back on during times of stress. He’s not your father’s Father, is what I’m trying to get across here.
Mendoza thinks Sarchie might have a gift for “The Work.” Sarchie doesn’t agree at first, but conveniently he sees and hears things that other people can’t, not even the priest. He hears sounds on security camera recordings with no audio. I know that’s kinda weird because there wasn’t a microphone there or anything but so what, he hears it. What other explanation is there for it? Are you calling him a liar?
I honestly like the relationship between Sarchie and Mendoza. They reveal their dark pasts both to build trust and to get some closure and be able to move on. Basically, they confess their sins to each other. It seems to get dangerously close to implying that the child killer he beat to death might have just been an innocent guy possessed by a satan. I’m glad it doesn’t quite take that leap. But eventually Sarchie trusts Mendoza enough that when he wants to do an exorcism of the suspect in his interrogation room he tells him to do it and offers to help. But yeah, that means the last 20 minutes or so are an exorcism scene.
Is it just me? I think THE EXORCIST is great filmmaking, but I never thought it was that scary. I always figured you had to be raised Catholic and have some kind of fear in you of devils and demons to be scared of it. Here we have a movie from a director who, in interviews, sounds like he really believes in this stuff. He talks about tapes he’s seen of “exorcisms” of people “possessed” and how he’s seen things that couldn’t possibly be explained except by the possibility of invisible monsters from another dimension being able to secretly get inside humans and make them seem like they’re mentally ill until a priest reads certain words to him for a while and then that deadbeat devil has to fuckin scram. In one sense it’s good because you want the artist to truly believe in his subject, no matter how crazy. But in another sense it’s like, maybe his threshold for a scary horror movie is different than mine since I don’t get to fall back on this belief that shit like that is real.
But even aside from all that, we weren’t born yesterday, we’ve seen THE EXORCIST, and this is not different enough from that to feel like a new movie. The clever part is that it’s an exorcism to get information out of the suspect. They decide it’s the only way to find out where he put Sarchie’s kidnapped wife and daughter. I respect that it’s a merging of horror and action movie tropes, but it still feels like yet another rehash of a thing we’ve seen before. It’s not enough of a twist, and I’m not sure how you really can twist it enough to be worth doing in a movie for the millionth fucking time. Maybe if it was an exorcism in the backseat of a car involved in a high speed chase and shootout? I don’t know. But not this.
There’s a related issue I gotta bring up, a bias I couldn’t help but hold against the movie. There is a real Ralph Sarchie whose book this is loosely based on, and it opens by saying “Inspired by the actual accounts of an NYPD sergeant.” In my opinion that statement should continue, “who obviously should’ve been fired because he thought he was dealing with demonic powers.” I mean it’s bad enough when cops make bad judgment calls that may or may not come from prejudices they have. Here we have a guy on the street with guns (and in the movie with deadly fists) who believes that some of the people he deals with are being controlled by evil monsters and have magic powers. Not safe.
If you read about him, Sarchie also says he worked with the Warrens, the people played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in THE CONJURING. And in his book he tells ludicrous stories like the one where he almost has to fight 15 satanists and their leader commits suicide because he messed with spells from The Necronomicon (a fake ancient book made for H.P. Lovecraft fans). So you don’t really know if he’s a sincere nutcase or, like his mentors, a fraud taking advantage of troubled people who become the subjects of their horseshit books about ghosts and devils. I can’t find it anymore but at the time of the theatrical release I found his Facebook page where he mostly just posted religious paintings, with a peppering of right wing memes and links to Michele Bachmann quotes. So the “crazy or liar?” question could go either way.
Whichever it is, I’m kind of insulted by this type of marketing where we’re supposed to believe that somebody like that is legitimate. “Well, it says there’s demons, but it’s based on actual accounts, I guess it’s real. They’re not allowed to put that on the ad if it’s not kinda real.”
And by the way, isn’t it ironic that modern horror treats people like Sarchie and the Warrens as heroes, when they made their bones peddling the exact same satanic panic idiocy that tormented so many of the horror fans of the ’80s? I don’t have experience in that type of Christianity – I was raised Presbyterian, we said “Peace be with you” to each other and ran a food bank, we didn’t fight devils – and I don’t like belittling religious beliefs. But it made more sense when these superstitious crusaders were the natural enemy of the horror fan. Because of this nonsense the parents of some of the long-haired black t-shirt wearers who loved these types of movies thought they had to look for satanic symbols and subliminal messages in their heavy metal albums and their Dungeons & Dragons. We can laugh off gullible moms taking away Judas Priest records, but there were kids who got sent to boot camp because their parents didn’t understand them. There were kids who got locked up for 18 years in West Memphis because their community honestly believed in heavy metal fans sacrificing children to the Devil. I hope next they make a movie based on the actual accounts of Southern Ohio evangelist Jim Brown, who discovered in the mid ’80s that Satan had hidden backwards messages in the theme song to Mr. Ed.
That aside, as a fictional character I’m okay with Sarchie. I always enjoy Bana, and he has an enjoyable, macho presence here even though the New York accent sometimes falters. (Sometimes his voice reminded me of Liam Neeson’s for some reason.) And I think he does have a respectable religious arc to his character, the way he comes to terms with it being wrong to punch Marvin the Molester’s clock, and also the way Mendoza teaches him that the possessed individual is a victim who needs to be helped. So he seems forgiving of the guy even though he killed his partner and terrorized his family. (I wonder if he just let the guy go, or if the testified at the trial that no, he’s not guilty of murder and kidnapping because that was the demonic spirit called The Jungler.)
Oh yeah, so the spirit is called The Jungler. This is an issue I’ve had with the works of Derrickson. He’s good at creating atmosphere and tension and some things. Good with actors. That movie SINISTER looked pretty good and I liked Ethan Hawke in it. But I think we have a different idea of the line between scary and corny. The monster in SINISTER was just such a fuckin dork. And he was called “Mr. Boogie,” for crying out loud. The Jungler doesn’t look as insane clown as Mr. Boogie, but still. The hoodie is not enough, and yet too much.
This corniness factor also plays into a reoccurring motif in the movie, which is the music of The Doors. Sarchie keeps noticing references to Doors lyrics, then something latin about a “portal,” which makes him think of The Doors. And then during the exorcism he hears the Doors in one of those special sound visions that only he can hear. I mean, for crying out loud. They were a good band, I like their sound. But I’m already suspicious of anyone who thinks they’re real deep (Oliver Stone excluded – lifetime pass for writing CONAN THE BARBARIAN and SCARFACE), so taking it to the next level of thinking they’re supernatural is three to six steps over my personal line of acceptable hokiness.
So this one didn’t really work on me but I can see how it’s well made in alot of ways. I’m just gonna have to quit with the “realistic” ghost and demon movies, I think. Give me a crazy monster and I’m okay but no more of this actual account shit. People always say that vampires and zombies are played out, but what about ghosts and demons? Way less variation in those. Frankly I’m sick of the motherfuckers.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.