Scott Derrickson’s demonic-possession flick Deliver Us from Evil isn’t the worst bag of Beelzebub buffoonery to ever douse audiences with holy water. For that matter, it’s better than Derrickson’s own The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005). Granted, that’s not saying all that much, but it’s some kind of accomplishment. This does not make Deliver Us from Evil good. In the debit column, it’s about 30 minutes too long, it brings little new to the exorcism subgenre and its pose as “inspired by the actual accounts of an NYPD sergeant” can only impress the very credulous. (This last becomes even more dubious when you learn — something the movie doesn’t tell you — that Sgt. Ralph Sarchie was mentored in his second career as a “demonologist” by Ed and Lorraine Warren of Amityville Horror fame.) Basically, it’s an Exorcist rip-off where Lt. Kinderman has become an on-the-edge cop with faith issues. There are also dribs and drabs of Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and Se7en (1995), but in its heart of hearts, Deliver Us from Evil has a bad case of Friedkin envy.
So in love with The Exorcist is this opus that it even starts out in Iraq — just like Friedkin’s film. The difference? Well, apart from the fact that the scene in The Exorcist is haunting, and this one quickly becomes silly, especially with Sean Harris in his Exorcist “scary face” make-up, the biggest drawback is that the scene is completely superfluous. We see it again later in the film and learn what it all means. Here, it just adds running time to a movie that is already too long. The film would have benefitted from just cutting it and going straight to the “three years later” main story. (It also raises the not-really-answered question of what our movie’s possessed Marine, or Marines, have been doing for the intervening years. Perhaps this is one of those time-release capsule demons.)
The bulk of the movie concerns the demonic doings of ex-Marine and part-time house painter Santino (Sean Harris, Prometheus) who appears to have gone on a possession spree just in time to add to the worries of our hero, Sgt. Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana). Poor Sarchie is not only a neglectful workaholic husband and father suffering from job stress, guilt and faith issues (not to mention Joel McHale as a wisecracking partner), but he’s blessed with a kind of gaydar for evil — call it demondar — and this makes him strangely tuned-in to such things. As a result, he has a positive nose for paranormal perfidy. He even senses evil (or the fact that he once saw Exorcist II) in the Bronx Zoo’s bug carousel. (Is it really a Pazuzu-go-round? Somebody needs to call John Boorman to check on this.) Of course, this also means — oo-wee-oo — that the forces of evil are tuned-in to him, with predictable results.
Much against his will, he ends up teamed with unorthodox priest/exorcist/recovering drug addict Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez, Carlos the Jackal) in the fight against the evil Santino and his pals brought back from Iraq. Said evil is essentially a Latin inscription that has the power with certain people to open a door that lets evil into our world. No, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it allows Derrickson an excuse to load the soundtrack with some rather curiously applied Doors songs. (Whether these please or displease the demons is not made clear.) While I will freely concede that the film manages to create a reasonable amount of atmosphere, it just goes on far too long. Plus, some scenes are more apt to produce snickers than shrieks, and the big exorcism is kind of flat. (That it’s based on footage of what the real Sarchie claims is a genuine exorcism doesn’t make it any more exciting.) Yeah, I’ve seen worse, but I get paid to sit through this stuff, and you don’t. Rated R for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout, and language.