Anyone who knows me, personally or through my guest reviews here, will be aware of my long-term affection for KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, the short-lived but highly influential horror series (if you know nothing about it, go reread my retrospective on it here). It, and the TV movies which inspired the series, successfully combined the gritty urban film nourish police procedural with horror, and its older, professional protagonists were a fresh and welcome change from the usual idiot teens and twenty-somethings that usually populate horror movies.
This was a vibe I definitely picked up while I was watching DELIVER US FROM EVIL, a new film written and directed by Scott Derrickson (SINISTER). The movie is based on a 2001 non-fiction book, Beware the Night, written by Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool. Sarchie was a veteran NYPD cop who apparently witnessed numerous cases of demonic possession while on duty, later retiring and becoming a full-time demonologist, and his book details these.
Scott Derrickson and co-writer Paul Harris Boardman chose not to adapt any of the accounts in the books, instead re-imagining the “origin story” of Sarchie in a completely original plot. The critics gave it mixed and negative reviews, but were they deserved?
DELIVER US FROM EVIL opens in Iraq, with a group of soldiers on some night mission, moving through the desert and approaching a cave, one where the spiders and snakes are fleeing from – never a good sign when the spiders and snakes leave the neighbourhood. They enter, their night vision goggles and cameras recording some writing on a wall, before all Hell breaks loose (sorry, couldn’t resist)…
We then cut to New York city, with cops Sarchie (Eric Bana, HULK) and snarky, wisecracking partner and future corpse (oh come on, you know how cop partners die in movies!) Butler (Joel McHale, from TV’s COMMUNITY) investigating a number of seemingly unrelated cases: wife beaters, suicides by paint thinner (yuck), and an apparently drugged-up woman (Colombian actress Valentina Rendón) who threw her kid into the lion pit of a zoo. But Sarchie has a “radar” about such things. You can almost call it a… Sixth Sense. Of course, you don’t need a Sixth Sense to guess that it might all have something to do with the fucked-up looking guy Sarchie sees walking in and out of the lion pit, unnoticed and unchallenged by the pack.
Anyway, Sarchie comes in contact with Mendoza, an impossibly handsome Jesuit priest played by Édgar Ramírez (ZERO DARK THIRTY). Seriously, the guy is way too handsome and buff to be leaving his Blessed Weapon in his pants. Look, I’m straight – well, mostly straight – but this guy is WOW! Sign me up for some of that Hot Priest Action!
Ahem. Anyway, he is seemingly in charge of the now-institutionalised woman who threw her kid into the lion pit, and asks to see security footage from the zoo. Pressed for a reason why, Mendoza admits that he believes the woman is possessed, something Archie scoffs at.
And yet, he can’t deny that the weird cases he has been encountering are all connected to the members of that three-man unit who changed after seeing the inscriptions on that cave in Iraq and returning home to the Big Apple. And their leader, Santino (Sean Harris, PROMETHEUS and TV’s THE BORGIAS) is still out there, and targeting Sarchie’s wife and child…
As stated before, the critics were not kind, calling DELIVER US FROM EVIL, among other things, bland and unoriginal. And they have a point, at least about the unoriginality. Very little of this hasn’t been taken from other movies, from all genres: the hard-nosed, cynical ex-Catholic cop with a dark secret that the demons might use against him, the priest who asks questions like, “Do you believe in True Evil?”, the bland wife (Olivia Munn) and child there simply to be bait, the smart-ass partner who will get killed even if he’s not two days from retirement. Even the title, changed at the last minute from the original BEWARE THE NIGHT, smacks of Generic…
And yet, I was still impressed by the movie. Maybe it was because I was watching it at night, with my wife and daughter and so unable to fast forward or turn it off. Maybe it was because of the actors, who gave it their all and gave it well.
And maybe it was Derrickson’s talent for creating an atmosphere of escalating tension and terror, something he demonstrated in the only other horror movie of his I’ve seen, SINISTER (which I reviewed here). He’s a talented director, able to generate atmosphere even with ordinary scenes, as well as the extraordinary ones, such as the aforementioned zoo, and the shots with the possessed, incarcerated woman (anyone who Googles Valentina Rendón and sees the gorgeous smiling actress will not recognise the feral beast you see here). The movie culminates in the obligatory exorcism scene, but despite having seen so many of these, I was impressed by this, too; set in a police interrogation room, it had a potency and vibrancy that raised it up (and did avoid some of the hoarier clichés associated with such scenes).
Derrickson is next directing Marvel Comics’ DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) with Benedict Cumberbatch, and anyone who knows the character’s origins could see DELIVER US FROM EVIL as a sort of first draft of what movie might turn out like (worldly hero is introduced to the otherworldly dangers around us). Which is good, because judging from this movie, Derrickson can deliver the kind of scares and atmosphere a movie about the Master of the Mystic Arts requires.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL is available on DVD and VOD, and the trailer is below.
Director: Scott Derrickson (also co-wrote)
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. Got the Devil in him…