Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Deliver Us from Evil (2014)

Like The Conjuring, this is “based on true events”, so watch out for demonically possessed serial killers and consult your local Catholic priest, I guess. Also, watch out which writing on what walls you read.

Anyway, tough cop Sergeant Sarchie (Eric Bana) and his obviously not long for this world self-declared adrenaline junkie partner Butler (Joel McHale) – who for some reason carries two combat knifes on the job - are having an even worse time than is usual in their jobs. There’s a series of violent crimes committed by a random assortment of people. The perpetrators don’t all fit too well into the usual scheme of normal people just losing it, and their behaviour reaches the point where “crazy” isn’t really the best explanation for their deeds anymore anymore. A family complains of the supernaturally caused noises in their cellar; and Sarchie who always had a curious sense for coming trouble now starts to have visions connected to these seemingly disconnected cases that just might be more than mere hallucinations.

Something really bad might be going on in the city’s dark streets, and formerly junkie priest Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) might just be right with his dark mumblings about demonic possession. Of course, it’ll take a bit for Sarchie to believe this, and he himself just might be bringing more of his work home than can be good for his family.

As you know, Jim, I’m not a fan of possession horror movies but when a film is as well realized as Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us from Evil, I am willing and able to get over myself and enjoy it, even though this particular film contains the even less well-loved element of the lapsed believer coming back into the fold because DEMONS(!).Clearly, that godhood isn’t one for subtlety. At least, unlike with The Conjuring, the relapse into religion makes psychological sense for Sarchie, and the demonic possessions as realized by Derrickson are creepy enough to convince me this is a man acting sane towards an insane world instead of one creeping back into psychological childhood. It does of course help that the film goes out of its way to portray Mendoza, our personified religious authority, as flawed and human as any of us, and does even – without outright stating it – make a convincing case as the priest for a vessel through which the powers of his godhood flow and not the one actually owning and controlling them. And while I don’t share in its theology, I really appreciate the film taking its time and space to integrate these things into the actual plot and not treating priests and exorcisms either as a deus ex machina (ha!) or some kind of superhero. This does also feed into making the main characters convincing and their doubts and suffering much more relatable by it, even if you don’t buy into their religion, or many of the tenants of the plot, at all.

Not surprisingly given my predilections, I don’t think the Christian mythology the film uses is as creepy as the mostly made-up one from Derrickson’s fantastic Sinister but the film is really good at convincing the audience to be in the presence of actual supernatural Evil instead of some quipping asshole that pukes green stuff because that’s what happened in The Exorcist or that someone who does that whole floating in a ceiling corner rigmarole as taken from The Last Exorcism.

There’s also the simple fact that Derrickson is just plain great at staging horror scenes, using clichés in the best possible manner, which is as a common ground between himself and his audience on which he can build whatever horrific image he has in mind. And, he does have quite a few of those in mind, often easily reaching the point – at least for me – where things truly become disturbing.


Pauline said...

Great thoughts on this one. I was skeptical when I rented it but found it to be a good "turn out the lights and scare yourself" kind of film.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Thank you!

I didn't go in expecting much either, despite how much I loved the director's SINISTER but what's better than to be surprised in a positive way, right?