Deliver Us From Evil is the newest film from writer/director Scott Derrickson, whose previous work includes the likes of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. Derrickson is a celebrated horror writer and director and here we have yet another example of why, despite a number of pretty obvious flaws that we will get into later. He gives us a masterclass in creating tension in a horror film. Derrickson continues his habit of having one particular form of imagery that he uses throughout a film, this time it being animals (although he does seem to give up on that about half way through, for some reason).
The film stars Eric Bana as Ralph Sarchie, your average New York cop with one of the most ridiculous accents I think I’ve ever heard in a film. Seriously, Bana, Joel McHale (Butler) and Olivia Munn (Jen) all need to spend some actual time in New York before they try the accent, because they all sound like they’re in a parody. The story is pretty generic, really and the predictable twists do nothing to help, which is surprising given Derrickson’s previous credits. The dialogue is equal parts cheesy and really, really rough. The script feels somewhat unfinished, as though they rushed to make it on a second or third draft, rather than fifth or sixth. The cast (other than those accents) is quite strong, and Joel McHale in particular makes some pretty cheesy lines work far better than they should have. I also have to comment on the performances of Edgar Ramirez (Mendoza) and Sean Harris (Santino) who deliver very, very good performances with little to work with, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.
The film’s real strength lies in its direction. Derrickson’s script may feel rushed but we’re treated to a lesson in how to create tension and an eerie atmosphere. From about a half hour into the film, I never felt safe to relax and that’s the hallmark of a really great horror movie. His use of sound in particular is fantastic, even if he does go a little overkill on the scratching, but the constant air of dread that surrounds the film makes up for any campyness in the script and acting. As soon as something goofy happens, something equally creepy and unsettling happens to balance it out.
The scares are effective, yes, but they come by too often and break the fantastic tension far too much. You get frightened, but by the end of the film you’re weirdly used to it and it doesn’t really have the same . There are, however, a number of fantastic scenes where Derrickson’s talents shine through, the most memorable being the exorcism. The payoff here is fantastic and it’s the first time in the movie I wasn’t annoyed by Bana as both he and Ramirez pull out all the stops in a scene that left my heart absolutely pounding. Everything from the lighting to the sound is virtually perfect in this scene and it makes you wonder how good the movie could have been if they had given the script a little more tender loving care than they did.
Overall it’s a fun horror flick, certainly not Derrickson’s best work but there are flashes of his brilliance dotted throughout, from the zoo scene to the exorcism. Despite a flat ending and quite a camp script, Derrickson manages to leave an impression and there are some genuinely scary moments in the movie. Really though, it’s the atmosphere that makes this movie, the constant feeling of dread that Derrickson creates highlights why so many people love his films and leaves a truly lasting impression. Plus, I’ll never listen to The Doors the same way again. It’s far from perfect but it’s certainly worth a look.