I had high hopes for Deliver Us From Evil, largely because it was directed by Scott Derrickson who, in 2012, gave us the wonderfully atmospheric and disturbing Sinister. Unfortunately, having now seen Deliver Us From Evil, I can only call it the anti-Sinister. Whereas Sinister took the viewers by surprise, Deliver Us From Evil is predictable. Whereas Sinister was full of genuinely disturbing moments, Deliver Us From Evil is full of jump scenes that are scary for a few seconds but then swiftly vanish from the memory. Whereas Sinister was fascinating for featuring a morally ambiguous hero, Deliver Us From Evil features a hero who is so mundanely heroic that you find yourself hoping that he’ll fail just as punishment for his smug hubris.
Perhaps the only way that Deliver Us From Evil tops Sinisteris that it features none other than the King of Television Snark, Joel McHale. As someone who loves both The Soup and Community, I’m always happy to see Joel but he’s oddly cast here, playing a muscle-bound, adrenaline junkie cop. It’s not that Joel does a bad job. In fact, he’s probably the most likable and compelling character in the entire film. It’s just that you can’t look at him on screen without asking, “Joel, why are you here!?”
Anyway, Deliver Us From Evil is pretty much your standard demonic possession/cop thriller hybrid. Mysterious murders are being committed. The murderers speak in a weird language and, it soon turns out, all of them are linked both to the discovery of ancient tomb in Iraq and to a painting company that was started by a group of returning veterans. It’s up to cops Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) and Parker (Joel McHale – why, Joel, why!?) to solve the crime. Helping them along the way is a former drug addict priest named Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez). If you’re guessing that the whole thing leads to a violent exorcism on a stormy night – well, you’re definitely on the right track.
Scott Derrickson does the best that he can with the material but he’s hampered by the fact that the film is based on a book that was written by the real-life Ralph Sarchie. Perhaps as a result, the film’s Ralph is such an upright and moral hero (though he does yell at his daughter in one unpleasant moment but even that is excused as simply being evidence of how personally Ralph takes his job) that he’s also not that interesting of a character. Eric Bana, who is actually a pretty good comedic actor, struggles to find some sort of depth to Ralph but ultimately, it’s just not there. And since 90% of horror is psychological, Deliver Us From Evil cannot recover from revolving around such a flat protagonist.
As a result, Derrickson has little option but to fill the film with standard horror movie scenes. The scenes, as themselves, work well enough but the story is so predictable that they don’t make much of an impact. The end result is a film that you’ve seen a hundred times before.
The only difference, of course, is that this version features Joel McHale dancing around with a knife.