Deliver Us From Evil Review: Hell is Other Genres
“Hey, you got a supernatural thriller in my cop drama!”
“Hey, you got a cop drama in my supernatural thriller!”
“So why isn’t this better?”
Good question. Deliver Us From Evil is a victim of its own origins, a gorgeously shot but unimaginative thriller that takes all the more annoying tropes from cop movies and mashes them up against a supernatural storyline that simply goes nowhere. The tired clichés about detectives emotionally shutting down in front of their wives and their obviously doomed wacky partners make it hard to take otherwise creepy horror elements seriously, and none of those horror elements are sturdy enough to carry all of the cop drama’s dead weight.
It doesn’t help that Deliver Us From Evil is based on the supposedly factual accounts of former NYPD Sgt. Ralph Sarchie (played here by Eric Bana), which means all the supernatural stuff has to be kept to a relative minimum. The plot centers around a possessed veteran named Santino (Sean Harris) who is secretly posting gates to capital-h Hell all over New York City. Sarchie and his wisecracking partner Butler (Joel McHale) team up with a sexy Jesuit priest (Edgar Ramirez) to solve the case, but there’s no chance that Santino will actually succeed in his unholy mission. If he had, you would have probably seen it on the news.
There’s still a cool idea in there somewhere, in which two detectives discover a secret world of the supernatural underneath all the already disgusting moral decay of New York City. But to pull it off director Scott Derrickson would have had to commit to either letting Deliver Us From Evil go over the top sometimes, or to keeping the supernatural elements subtle enough to be explained away by logic. Instead, we are treated to a film that’s just horrifying enough to make us want more, but just grounded enough to keep a satisfying third act outside the realm of possibility.
Individual moments are frightening, of course. Derrickson is no slouch, and films Deliver Us From Evil using a variety of techniques that make his follow-up to Sinister one of the best-looking horror movies in recent memory (or at least since Sinister). He knows how to time a “boo” scare and how to keep his locations shrouded in just enough darkness that we can see what’s going on, but imagine shocking terrors that must be lurking in the shadows. And when we finally see those terrors, sometimes they are memorably unnerving; let’s just say that if you like cats, this might not be the movie for you.
And the cast does well with the material, even though it forces them to go through some very familiar motions. Eric Bana brings a no-nonsense attitude to an awful lot of nonsense, Edgar Ramirez spouts a ton of exposition but gives it plenty of dramatic weight, and “Community” star Joel McHale is a surprisingly competent knife-fighter (who knew?). Only Olivia Munn is left stranded as Sarchie’s wife, who’s just biding her time until she gets kidnapped, nagging her husband about his emotional unavailability. Because apparently that’s all cop wives ever do, because apparently none of them ever saw a cop movie before they actually married one.
Deliver Us From Evil doesn’t deliver the goods. It’s competent in a lot of ways but none of its positive qualities compensate for its dramatic failures. Often they just cancel each other out. It’s too trite to be a good cop movie and too stunted to be an effective horror movie. Two mediocre tastes that taste mediocre together.