“Deliver Us from Evil” is the chilling tale of a New York police officer’s encounter with spiritual evil. It’s also one of the most refreshing films to reach theaters in recent memory.
Based on real life events and set in the Bronx, the story follows New York cop Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana, “Lone Survivor”), who is brought to a Castilian renegade priest after encountering a demonic presence. Sarchie expects evil from the hands of men but is surprised when his investigations uncover inexplicable actions that lead him to question his religious beliefs.
Detective Sarchie is said to have a radar that allows him to detect particularly bad things. When Sarchie and his partner Butler (Joel McHale, “Blended”) respond to a domestic abuse complaint, they uncover a deranged man who scratches at the floor and has extreme bouts of rage. The officers are not suspicious about this activity until they find similar traits in another woman who throws her child into the lion’s den moat at a zoo. After arresting this woman (newcomer Olivia Horton), Sarchie meets her somewhat unusual priest, Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez, “The Counselor”). Mendoza guides Sarchie to rediscover his Catholic roots and helps him come to terms with the demons of his past.
Filled with exorcisms, possessed victims and creepy, otherworldly babble, “Deliver Us from Evil” takes the best of the horror genre and crams it into one film. It dwarfs other recent films that have treaded similar territory to redundant degrees, including “The Last Exorcism,” “The Rite” and “The Devil Inside.” The difference with “Deliver Us from Evil” lies in the development of its characters and their relationships. Unlike other contemporary films where characters are cookie-cutter and serve prototypical roles throughout (or until they’re killed), “Deliver Us From Evil” dignifies its viewers with character back stories. We learn about Mendoza’s past and what led him to religion. We become attached to Sarchie and root for him to solve the mystery before him. Sarchie’s self-discovery makes the film interesting rather than simply chilling.
On top of the film’s uncharacteristically deep exploration of its characters’ psyches, “Deliver Us From Evil” actually boasts a happy ending. I am happy to report that no terrifying nightmares kept me awake that evening.
While the film’s focus on exorcisms seems a tad unoriginal, praise should be doled out to director Scott Derrickson for not filming the entire movie with the “shaky” camera aesthetic that has plagued many recent horror films. It’s refreshing to leave the theater without the pounding headache and subtle nausea that generally accompanies today’s horror films. It’s a filmmaking trope that gained popularity with 2008’s “Cloverfield” and infiltrated the market with the documentary-style “Paranormal Activity,” which was given wide release in 2009. It’s come to define a large portion of mainstream horror films since.
But sometimes the traditional way of doing things is the best way of doing things. In the case of “Deliver Us From Evil,” it’s also the scariest way of doing things.
3.5 out of 5 stars