Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson (screenplay), Paul Harris Boardman (screenplay)
Stars: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn
Scott Derrickson is well known these days for directing Marvel’s Doctor Strange, but before that his supernatural films explored much darker territory. Horror is one of the most over-saturated film genres around, with the majority being mediocre at best. With Sinister, the Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver us from Evil, Derrickson distinguished himself as a director interested in more than cheap scares. As a self professed Christian who is open about his faith, he is perhaps an anomaly in Hollywood, but also among horror directors. Why would a devout catholic want to make scary movies?
He answers this question best in Deliver us from Evil, his 2014 movie starring Eric Bana. The movie tells the real life story of Ralph Sarchie, an NYPD officer turned exorcist. It’s an origin story of sorts, relating Sarchie’s first encounter with the supernatural, and his subsequent journey from skeptic to believer.
Bana is well cast as the tough cop with good instincts (‘radar’, as his partner, played by Joel McHale, calls it) who is slowly being worn down by the cruelty he sees everyday. His wife is the devout Catholic of the family, played with heart by Olivia Munn. Sarchie on the other hand, lost his faith a long time ago. He can’t reconcile the suffering he witnesses on the streets with the concept of an all loving God. Soon he is drawn into an investigation of what Edgar Ramirez’s Father Mendoza calls, ‘primary evil’. Mendoza is one of the most interesting characters in the film, a hard- drinking, chain- smoking former drug addict who clearly struggles with his vow of celibacy. Ramirez plays Mendoza’s multiple contradictions well, coming across as haunted and compassionate in equal measure. I’ll also mention Sean Harris here, who does an excellent job as the ‘big bad’. Harris is often cast for his whispery voice and striking, angular face, but preforms the physical acting required of him here brilliantly, especially during the movie’s final scenes.
Rather than jump- scares, the movie relies on a heavy sense of dread and excellent special effects work, as well as its deeper philosophical underpinnings, to draw you in. The film makes good use of shadows to create atmosphere, rather than the usual, ‘because its a horror movie it has to be dark.’ There are jump scares, but they are earned, and never fake outs just to raise tension.
What impresses most is the questions you are left with when the movie ends. This is one of the marks (perhaps the mark) of a good film, in my opinion. When a movie lingers with you, and you discuss it with your friends, or find yourself thinking about it weeks later. This means the film has resonated, that it was more than disposable entertainment. Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, this movie asks interesting questions about the nature of evil, and the nature of human- kind in general.
The scene which stuck with me the most wasn’t scary or tense. It’s a dialogue scene. Mendoza and Sarchie are sitting in a bar, discussing the case. Ramirez says, “People always talk about the problem of evil, but nobody ever talks about the problem of good.” He’s speaking of the famous paradox; since the world is full of evil, how can there be loving God? He looks around the New York Fire Department bar they’re sitting in and points out that every man in there is willing to rush into a burning building to save complete strangers.
What makes the movie nuanced is that it doesn’t say, ‘The devil makes people do bad things, while God makes them do good things.’ People are still responsible for their actions. In another beautifully played scene, Sarchie confesses to Mendoza that he lost control while chasing down a child molester. The choice was his, he screwed up. Rather than judgement, Mendoza stresses that Sarchie has a choice to make about who he wants to be in the here and now. That’s what works about this movie. Whether you’re religious, agnostic, or just a horror fan, you’ll get something out of it.