Review: Deliver Us from Evil (2014)

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Director: Scott Derrickson
Screenwriters: Scott Derrickson & Paul Harris Boardman
Based on Beware the Night, a “non-fiction” (*cough* bullshit *cough*) book by Ralph Sarchie & Lisa Collier Cool
Cast: Eric Bana, Édgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris, Joel McHale, Chris Coy, Olivia Horton & Lulu Wilson
Runtime: 118 min // Certificate: 15

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TgHldrvLrA]

Deliver Us from Evil, the latest effort from Sinister director Scott Derrickson, is a patchwork of every supernatural, quasi-religious horror cliché in the book, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With its dark corridors, raspy voiced demons and flickering light bulbs, it is in hock to every Exorcist rip-off known to man, yet it still manages to just about hold its own as a modern example of competent horror cinema.

Funnily enough, the film to which Deliver Us from Evil is most in debt is The Exorcist III, a film that I’ve always felt is shamefully underappreciated. I mean, just look at the similarities; it’s about a tough, cynical cop who long ago abandoned his faith, working in partnership with a somewhat renegade priest to defeat an evil he neither believes in (at least not initially) nor understands. Before it’s over, the cop’s unsuspecting family has been dragged into the chaos and he’s undergone a Damascene conversion to the ways of God. Heck, it even ends with an unconvincing and wholly unnecessary exorcism! If William Peter Blatty happens to watch it, Mr Derrickson might well have a lawsuit on his hands…

Nevertheless, that Deliver Us from Evil is both so generic and so predictable is perhaps its biggest strength, as it means it is wholly unpretentious. Though it purports to be “based on real events”, this particular plot device doesn’t overwhelm the natural flow of the film, and Derrickson doesn’t feel the need to resort to blundering gimmickry to tell his story. His brand of horror is simple, unassuming and old-fashioned, which is weirdly refreshing in the genre’s current climate. Indeed, I actually found myself craving the simplicity and predictability that Derrickson’s traditional but admittedly pedestrian style offers over the cheap “found-footage” tricks of other similar films. This in itself speaks volumes about the utter contempt in which I hold my favourite genre nowadays.

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On a similar note, I must give Derrickson some credit for actually telling a complete story. I know that might sound odd, but an increasing number of horror films don’t bother with endings anymore, as their writers are either too lazy to come up with one or they think there’s something intrinsically scary about a so-called “open” ending. Deliver Us from Evil, though full of plot holes and major contrivances, at least has the common decency to have a start, middle and end. The resolution might not be perfect, but at least it offers some closure. The film is over, and you no longer need to concern yourself with it. That such endings have become so rare again speaks to just how low the genre has sunk in the last decade or so.

Deliver Us from Evil is about half-an-hour too long, laughably predictable and incredibly messy, but despite all of this it still manages to work on its own terms. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it is (except, perhaps, grounded in truth…) and it doesn’t try to mess around with a successful and well-worn formula, which makes it a generic but enjoyable experience. Eric Bana (Chopper) and Édgar Ramírez (Zero Dark Thirty) are solid in their roles and Derrickson is adept at cranking up the tension and unsettling his audience. He uses “jump scares” quite sparingly, instead relying on a bleakness of atmosphere to evoke fear, and though a large chunk of the interminable second act could easily be excised without any effect on the story, it at least manages to evade the cardinal sin of being boring.

Plus, for embarrassingly blunt metaphorical reasons, it also features a lot of songs by The Doors, and I’ve always got time for that.

★★★

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