Film review: Deliver Us from Evil

Evil conflict works amid supernatural flaws in Deliver Us from Evil

Eric Bana, right, and Edgar Ramirez in a scene from Deliver Us from Evil. Andrew Schwartz / Screen Gems
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Deliver Us from Evil

Director: Scott Derrickson

Starring: Eric Bana, Joel McHale, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn

Three stars

A serial-killer mystery in which the culprit turns out to be one of Satan's minions, Deliver Us From Evil adapts the detective genre to an exorcism tale that is very serious about demonic possession.

Though based on claims made by Ralph Sarchie (played by Eric Bana), a real-life NYPD officer-turned-paranormal investigator, the picture is stolen by a fictitious character – a composite religious figure played with a predictable level of smoulder by the Carlos star Edgar Ramirez.

More aesthetically coherent, if less frightening than the director's 2012 hit Sinister, the film is respectful of the Roman Catholic faith, though its nods to religion are genre-appropriate and never preachy enough to alienate the average horror fan.

Sarchie, a lapsed-Catholic cop who patrols the South Bronx with his partner Butler (Joel McHale), is proud of an internal radar that steers him away from mundane radio calls and towards the more interesting cases. An incident in which a deranged mother threw her toddler into the Bronx Zoo’s lion pit is juicier than most, with a mysterious, bloodstained bystander disrupting the investigation before vanishing.

Still, Sarchie is ready to write the mother off as a garden-variety psycho until a Jesuit priest, Ramirez’s Mendoza, shows up to insist on a more complicated explanation.

Enjoyably, this particular case isn’t limited to one spirit-controlled victim terrorising his family and friends. Poltergeist-y after-effects haunt the places and the people he has visited – even Sarchie, who is plagued by hallucinations and whose house has become a very scary place for his daughter. Olivia Munn, as Sarchie’s wife, tries to comfort the poor girl, but the film ratchets up her bump-in-the-night torment.

The investigation yields some appreciably icky encounters with putrefying corpses and deranged prisoners, which is good considering the sometimes flimsy cop-movie stuff that surrounds the scares.

The bulked-up McHale, who acquits himself well in action scenes, gets the kind of jadedly quippy dialogue one can easily imagine him parodying on Community. Munn's part, though, could have been scripted by cut-and-pasting any of a hundred other neglected-policeman's wife characters.

While the supernatural side of the film has its flaws, its central conflict works. Ramirez, shaggy enough to be the Serpico of exorcists but exuding calm wisdom instead of obsessive determination, makes faith look cool.

His seriousness enables the movie’s desire to dig into the mechanics of the climactic exorcism, though Sean Harris as the possessed man deserves credit as well.

* AP