deliver us beefcake Ramírez and Bana play a buff pair of demon hunters in Derrickson's overblown horror flick.
Deliver Us From Evil is one Nicolas Cage short of candidacy for camp-classic status. An attempt to out-exorcize The Exorcist that bears the indelible mark of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, this film is more silly than scary. But, as today's horror retreads go, it gets points for having a discernible plot and building to a climax that throws the whole blood-spattered kitchen sink into the mix.
One suspects that Bruckheimer (Con Air, The Rock, Armageddon) and director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) set out to make the Dark Knight of demonic possession movies. Deliver Us is essentially the origin story of a Catholic Batman, NYPD officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), who battles infernal forces on the mean streets of his own Gotham. A skeptic at the beginning of the film, he renews his faith through his work with Father Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez), a hunky, whiskey-swilling exorcist who likes to ask pointed questions like "You outgrew God?"
The film's Sarchie has a real-life counterpart who claims to have combined the duties of cop and exorcist, tutored by devout demon hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren. But Derrickson and cowriter Paul Harris Boardman have thrown out the case studies Sarchie detailed in his memoir in favor of a more flavorful fiction.
It all starts when soldiers in Iraq discover a mysterious tomb. Years later, back in the States, Sarchie unearths links between seemingly unrelated cases: A woman tosses her child into the Bronx Zoo's lion enclosure; a domestic abuser harbors strange artifacts; a couple complains of a haunted basement.
According to his bulldog partner (a hilariously miscast Joel McHale), Sarchie simply has "radar" for gruesome misdeeds, many of which involve people sinisterly muttering the lyrics from Doors songs. But Mendoza informs him he's been called by God to defeat a demonic force. When his own picture-perfect family is threatened by bumps in the night, Sarchie starts to believe.
The real Sarchie is a guy who writes sentences like "I put aside my gun and police badge and arm myself with holy water and a relic of the True Cross." Ramírez, who won awards for playing the titular terrorist in Carlos, can convey that kind of bombast. Bana cannot. Luckily, the film's style, editing and production design do it for him.
Sarchie's first scene sets the tone: We meet him lashed by rain and weeping over the corpse of an infant found in a dumpster. As he departs the scene of this crime that demonstrates the ubiquity of Evil (but has no plot relevance whatsoever), the camera shudders and a bass rumble rises on the soundtrack, promising that things will just get louder, darker and more self-important from here.
And so they do. Deliver Us From Evil contains not one original motif or scare effect, and many of the ones it borrows are opportunistically jumbled together, popping up for a random (often gory) shock and never mentioned again. Its hoodie-wearing villain (Sean Harris) falls far short of inspiring existential dread, and its hero, despite his angsty backstory, isn't that compelling.
More compelling is trying to imagine these events playing out in reality. The script doesn't even bother to give Sarchie an irascible superior; apparently this cop has carte blanche to beat on suspects and conduct exorcisms on police property.
But the film's commitment to absurdity is what makes it fun, in a '90s-prestige-crime-drama way. We can only imagine what an actor like Cage would have done with the character of a haunted man divinely appointed to be a demon-buster. But when the summer heat grows infernal, you could do worse than to find an air-conditioned cave playing this flick possessed by the spirit of exorcism movies past.
Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.