Deliver Us From Evil (2014)
Deliver Us From Evil is the Modern Major General of horror movies. On pretty much every level aside from being scary, it ranges from decent to pretty good. The actors all deliver solid performances, the main characters are well-written and interesting, the police investigation side of the story (the part that separates this from other exorcism movies) was very good, and it's even got a good sense of tension courtesy of experienced horror director Scott Derrickson, maker of the excellent Sinister and the alright The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The problem, though, is that it just isn't scary. Like, at all. Worse, apart from one creative scene early on involving a lion den at the Bronx Zoo, the scares it does employ are mostly cribbed from other, better supernatural horror films, particularly the climatic third-act exorcism scene that bordered on the comical but never came close to being flat-out frightening. Furthermore, the film's structure falls apart in the third act, as it suddenly asks us to care about the protagonist's wife and daughter, who until then had received little development separate from him and existed only to serve as fodder for the film's rote second-act scares. The wife's one character trait is that she's upset about how distant and married to the job he is, and the little girl is just there to look precocious and vulnerable. It's a horror film with no edge (odd for a film that earned its R rating), no creativity, and worst of all, awfully few serious scares.
It's a serious shame, too, because this is a film that gets just about every other part of the equation right. Eric Bana's NYPD officer Ralph Sarchie was a great character, well-written and well-acted. I was seriously interested in this guy, in his attempts to cope with the emotional trauma of his job, in his legitimately dark past as a cop, and in his journey to redemption and coming to terms with what he had done. In a better horror film, Ralph Sarchie would've been an excellent protagonist, not least because the film is an adaptation of the real Sarchie's memoirs (having never read them, I can't vouch for how closely the film sticks to the book, or whether or not the book itself is stretching the truth) yet doesn't turn him into an obviously heroic "Mary Sue". Edgar Ramirez was also great as Father Mendoza, the religious foil to Sarchie's skeptic, with the confession scene near the end serving as a showcase for both actors and a great exploration of their characters. Even Olivia Munn and Joel McHale, two actors whose backgrounds are in comedy, take their thankless roles as Sarchie's wife and partner and make them interesting, often in spite of the script. Lastly, when not cribbing frights from other movies, director Scott Derrickson succeeds in making this film look straight-up creepy, making me wish that much more that there were any payoff to the layers of tension that he weaves through this film's "scary" moments. I frequently got shades of the man who made Sinister, one of the few truly creative "found footage" horror movies I've seen in a long time, which makes me wish that he had a better script to work with here.
Score: 2 out of 5
The fact that it handled its human side so well made me wish that much more that Deliver Us From Evil wasn't such a rote, by-the-numbers affair as a horror movie. Even if you're desperate to see a good fright-fest in theaters, you'd be better off staying home and watching one of the dozens of films that have done this sort of material much better.