Something you may not know about me is that, I grew up in a Pentecostal church. This particular denomination of Christianity is fairly young by historical standards, but carries rich heritage and deep tradition. The specific church my family was a part of, where my parents were actually the pastors, was more progressive than others, and honestly leaned more toward being considered non-denominational. I know what you’re thinking, “Stephen, what the hell does any of this have to do with a horror movie?” And my answer to you is… Stop being so damn impatient. I’m getting there.
I can’t say that demonic possession was a common occurrence in our church, or any of the churches we visited, but it happened. Well, it happened if you believe in that sort of thing. See, I consider myself more of a skeptic now, but I promise you I saw things I can’t very well explain. I remember one service in particular where all the children were taken out of the church’s main auditorium because of the unusual behavior of one man who was being prayed for by a crowd of other men. I, however, evaded being cattled to the kids’ classrooms and hid in one of the back rows of church pews to watch the insanity. To this day it doesn’t make much sense to me. I saw a man, about 5’8 and maybe 150 lbs lift multiple other men, who were each significantly larger than him on their own, off of himself in fit of rage, and shove a couple of them several feet and knocked the rest to the ground. The various Pastors and church leadership relentlessly prayed and prayed and prayed for him, and after (what felt like anyway) a couple hours, he let out a guttural sound that would put George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher to shame, and then he laid in the floor for awhile in this mesmerized state and finally he got up crying and thanking and hugging everyone. I have no idea what that dudes life-story was, but I swear to you I witnessed all of that.
With that, and various other lesser events, burned into my psyche, It’s no surprise that when I was a teenager I started getting into exorcism movies. The first one I ever remember seeing was Stigmata. At the time, I was very captivated by it. This concept of unimaginable darkness being battled by small faith, that somehow was up to the challenge, intrigued me. From then on I’ve been watching pretty much every one of them I can (My current favorite is The Last Exorcism), so when the opportunity to see a sneak preview of Deliver Us From Evil came up, I called Robbie and we went to check it out (Robbie is a 4LN writer/website messiah, and also he’s my horror-movie-boyfriend because no one else will go with me).
The film follows the true story of Sergeant Ralph Sarchie, as his typical police-work leads him down a path into some very not typical and very dark territory. Along the way he encounters a Jesuit Priest named Mendoza, who helps him navigate the case. A case that will define him not just as a cop… but as a man.
Eric Bana (Hulk, Troy, Star Trek) comfortably fits into his role here, and transforms perfectly into the tough New York cop. His acting-camouflage abilities, I feel, are severely underrated and I hope that people notice how easily you forget that you’re watching him. He blends in to the film and guides you through the big picture without being a “gloryhog” for the spotlight. That’s rare in Hollywood these days.
The next main character is the Priest, Mendoza, who is played by Édgar Ramírez (Domino, The Bourne Ultimatum, Zero Dark Thirty). I’ve had a month to think about it and, I have to say that, this is by far one of my top 3 favorite depictions of a Priest in an exorcism film (I’m aware that’s a very specific “favorites” list to have). The character is intuitive and wise, while being open about his flaws and failures. I don’t want to give you, though, the impression that he’s a pitiful sad-sack. His shortcomings are warnings and cautionary tales. He’s not particularly ashamed of his past, he’s more pensive and hopefully reflective.
Ralph’s wife is played by Olivia Munn (Magic Mike, The Babymakers), who seems to be getting her foot in the door as the go-to actress for the “wife” role. She does a good job and certainly holds her own when she’s on-screen.
While most people won’t recognize him, I do want to be sure to mention that Sean Harris (The Borgias, Prometheus), who plays the main “villainous” character, was incredible. I was familiar with his acting from watching him on the Jeremy Irons-lead “Borgias” and I don’t want to give too much away but, he performed his final scenes with an emotional brutality that just hits you in the gut . I was very impressed.
The real surprise to me, however, was Joel McHale (The Soup, Community) as Ralph’s partner, Butler. He’s his regular hilarious self, only now he’s buffed up like a f–king UFC fighter. I swear to god, every time he flexed his muscles I briefly reconsidered my sexual orientation. His part alone is worth seeing the movie.
Director Scott Derrickson is no *stranger*… to demonic possession films (don’t worry, that emphasis will make sense in minute). He directed one of the all-time best, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, as well as 2012’s “Sinister”. He’s able to use raw human emotion to make his projects all the more terrifying. The more real it is, the more the audience will relate to it, the more likely they are to pee themselves in the theater out of crippling fear. Here, he blends the frightening imagery he’s come to master, with the gritty style of a suspense-thriller. That’s one thing that stood out to me also, is that they really promote this like a demonic possession and exorcism horror flick, but it’s equal parts suspenseful cop-drama, and Derrickson blends them very well. He was recently announced as the director of Marvel’s Doctor Strange film (see, I told you if you hung in there my “stranger” joke at the beginning would makes sense), and after seeing his technical work here, I’m excited to see how he blends the real and the supernatural in that movie.
The one downside I noticed in the film was the editing. There are times that things happen and I thought, “If they had just switched those two scenes around it would have made more sense.” But, since I have zero experience as a film editor, I trust they were just crafting the film around the way the events took place.
It’s tough to talk about the story without giving too much away. I genuinely do not want to spoil too much of the movie for you guys so I’ll try to be vague… Ralph is a good cop and family man, but he’s made decisions that haunt him. One night while he and his partner are responding to a domestic violence call they find themselves having stumbled into something much bigger, and much darker than they could have imagined. After meeting Mendoza, a Jesuit Priest, Ralph’s case begins taking him to places he doesn’t want to go, and showing him things he doesn’t believe in.
The underlying message here is redemption. Ralph needs to forgive himself to be a better father and husband, but he just doesn’t believe he can be forgiven. The thing I ultimately took away form the story was that by being a good cop, and simply allowing himself to be more open-minded, he’s able to begin a path to salvation. It’s not that he has to change who he is; He just needs to learn to not let his past define his present and future.
I’m expressing these spiritual, philosophical and existential ideas from the movie to you to show that they’ve done something here with the story that rarely happens in “horror” films… they gave it a message of hope. I love merciless violence and gore as much as the next guy, but it’s admirable that they don’t have to use that here to make a quality scary movie.
I really enjoyed the movie. There were a lot of dynamics that took me back to when I was kid watching those demonic-supernatural-thrillers. Movies like the aforementioned “Stigmata”, or “End of Days”, or “The Amityville Horror”. It made me jump a handful of times, and at the end I was even legitimately anxious for what was going to happen. Being as callous to horror movies as I am, it’s rare for me to to be nervous and tense while watching one.
If you like these kinds of flicks, or you just like movies with a high focus on redemption and you can stand the terrifying images and creepiness, then you’ll love this movie. It’s got a lot to offer horror film lovers and doesn’t conduct itself nearly as bleak as most other films in the genre.