I almost enjoyed this film. It has within it the possibilities of an overflowing, ecstatic nightmare of the incredulous and deranged, something from which horrors truly can spring, or at the very least can become a highly amusing slice of horror-comedy. Thoughts on Deliver Us from Evil after the jump.
The plot & events of the film I almost enjoyed are this:
A bunch of American military whack-jobs (lead character’s favourite term, used numerous times to easily demonstrate his heavy-handed lack of understanding), while on a sanctioned killing spree in Iraq, are possessed by primary evil (which is really bad evil, their wanton killing is only secondary evil) after looking at some LATIN INSCRIPTIONS (with Persian hieroglyphs, not as important as the LATIN) in Iraq, because the Romans were there a long time ago. They then casually return home to start a painting business which will allow them to spread evil by recreating the LATIN INSCRIPTIONS (with Persian hieroglyphs) on walls for weak-willed people to see and become possessed (and then quickly paint over the murals again in a manner that would not lead to online recommendations, really haphazard like) and they do this in important places like half abandoned basements and the wall of a lion enclosure. And oh yeah, Eric Bana keeps hearing the music of The Doors because he has psychic radar AND THE DEMONS ARE TRYING TO OPEN DOORS INTO OUR WORLD! (A near verbatim line from the film, spoken while The Doors plays in the background).
This could have been the Four Lions of demonic possession films. The film I describe above had me laughing with a strange, demented joy. Alas, this was not the film that writer/director Scott Derrickson intended to make. Instead we get grizzled Eric Bana Bronx-Cop Lapsed-Catholic (he’s “Heavy Handed” gettit he punched a 100% bad guy to death, gettit HEAVY HANDED) versus insidious evil from the Middle East, but not in a racist way because they are Caucasian and the Roman’s were there before Christ with you know, LATIN. Head, wall, repeat.
Deliver Us from Evil is horror that consistently states I AM SCARY. It has an obsessively inward gaze, forever monitoring each scene for a chance to be ominous and scary. It is distracted by genre in a way that never allows organic development; it reeks of easy coincidence, mindless connections and lazy borrowing. It relies upon lens filters, static noise, odd angles, and all-round jittery & obtrusive mise-en-scene that badgers with such eagerness that horror never has a chance to grow. There is no moment when the audience is allowed to feel their comfortable world falling away, it’s just constant HORROR OH MY GOD HORROR. The deadening weight that ensues has nothing to do with nightmares, it just presses down, sucking the air out of everything.
On the bright side, it is extremely laughable. Every intentional joke falls flat, but the unintentional ones are ridiculous enough to push the film within a hair’s breadth of being a spoof. Some of the dialogue lands in ‘Would look great on a t-shirt’ territory, while the musical choices push the film into a batshit insanity that truly would be entertaining if it weren’t so interminable. More than anything that is what this film is: interminable. So tediously earnest, yet ragged & wheezing with copycat lazy writing that lifts wholesale from other films while totally failing at thematic consistency.
There is a strong whiff of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III, in which a grizzled detective hunts a demonic serial killer. It plays like an early David Fincher film and is a must see. There are similarities to Deliver Us From Evil, though it wasn’t the plot that reminded me of it. The Exorcist III had an entire subplot added after completion, one that now sticks out like a sore thumb and severely undermines the quiet power of the film. Many scenes in Deliver Us From Evil have this same disconnected, afterthought vibe, in particular the scenes relating to Bana’s young daughter experiencing scary noises, ported over from the recent spell of ghost/demon films and going absolutely nowhere beyond letting a young actress practice her “I’m scared, Mummy!” face.
Everything here feels as if it hasn’t been thought out. For example, why do the demonically possessed have to go so far out of their way to possess people that they know? There is nothing random about the horror here. And why the hell a painting company? The chaos and disorder wrought by these demons is so orderly and organised that the lord of anarchy and disorder would be rolling in his grave. A gifted filmmaker could have drawn out the associations between military order and violence, shaping a framework that reveals an ordered world gone insane. That does not happen. There is no thematic conflict between order and disorder, between cop and criminal. The demons are consistently represented as animalistic, all teeth and mindless nails clawing, which reeks of dull specieisism, boringly offensive when not developed into anything more. It’s just SCARY SHIT after thuddingly dull SCARY SHIT.
The stitches do not begin to come apart at any point because they aren’t there in the first place. A scene that borrows the setup from the Sloth scene in Fincher’s Seven goes nowhere beyond leading to an incredibly predictable death. The ‘creepy’ deployment of classic rock makes you remember how fun Fallen was without adding anything to this film (it actually pulls the viewer totally out of the film by being so jarringly daft). The logical consistency of events, behaviours and thematic meaning are as dissociative as the roll of dice, as the flicking of channels on a Halloween night.
Deliver Us From Evil never finds its footing as an original film, nor does it succeed in gelling its assorted DNA into a new creature. The ‘Inspired by True Events’ tag is risible in the extreme, failing even to align it with that subset of ‘It really happened!’ horror cinema. Only as a work of borderline propaganda for the Catholic church does this film work, because God is good and demons are bad and Priests can save you. And yeah, animals are easily possessed because they are low creatures. Yawn, dear god YAWN. Give me J.T. Petty’s Hellbenders any day, another ragged film, but one that remembered to go its own way, understand the theological history, and have some damn fun.
By Ben Buckingham
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer(s): Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris & Boardman (screenplay)
Starring: Eric Bana, Édgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn
Runtime: 118 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: July 24 2014