Deliver Us From Evil arrives in theaters this July 4 weekend as the most unlikely of combinations.
It is producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s first horror film. The movie is based on the true story of an NYPD detective investigating crimes that appear to be demonic in influence. It is also an exorcism-horror movie from the director (Scott Derrickson) of Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Immediately you get the sense that Deliver Us From Evil feels like a Bruckheimer project. In fact, the detective and crime investigation elements feel like CSI -- the CBS hit show he produces. Yet, its horror and supernatural aspects are pure Derrickson.
Eric Bana is Ralph Sarchie, and the real life guy’s book is what this film gets its largest inspiration from. Sarchie was also a major consultant on the film’s set. He’s married (his wife Jen is played by Olivia Munn) and has a little girl. He works the toughest streets in one of the toughest cities in America. The horrors he sees are terrifying, but man-made.
And that is where the film seeks to split. He meets a priest (Edgar Ramirez) that is trying to help a woman in his charge whom Sarchie arrested for throwing her young child into the lion’s den at a local zoo. Ramirez’s Mendoza is the opposite on the faith spectrum as Sarchie is. The cop has lost his way from the Catholic church after years of working the streets.
Yet Mendoza starts to get his attention with the concept of primary versus secondary evil. The latter is what man does to man. The former is what demons compel man to do. And there is a huge difference, and it appears that Sarchie’s case is rooted in the overtaking of the city by a demonic power that the two of them must join forces to eradicate.
On paper that is a fantastic idea. But, unfortunately, we felt too many times this film could not decide whether it was a police procedural or a battle against the devil movie. Sure, it can be both. It’s just Deliver Us From Evil is too often on one side or the other of that coin, and never right in the sweet spot of the two.
Derrickson wields his camera heavily. He was aided by one of the greatest rain storm seasons in New York City history. It certainly added to the tone. It’s dark -- I mean, there doesn’t appear to even be windows in Sarchie’s police office! But that is clearly by choice and for this film, it works.
The director, as we learned form our Deliver Us From Evil WonderCon cast and filmmaker chat, was brought on later in the process. His stamp is all over this and his re-writes were clearly needed. The remnants of what came before are probably the police investigation elements that remind us of that certain aforementioned TV hit.
But, in that vein, our Deliver Us From Evil review has to point out that Bana’s partner Butler is played by Joel McHale. He delivers a performance that is astounding. Yes, he’s funny. But he can tackle a knife fight and patrol New York’s evil streets with the best of them. We hope McHale is given more chances to stretch his talents.
Fans of horror might be a little disappointed in Deliver Us From Evil. But, remember, this film is the most unlikely of combinations of police investigation tale, horror, family drama and morality lesson.