Overview: Directed by Scott Derrickson, who gave us Sinister (2012) and The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), this film tells the true story of NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie who teams up with an unconventional priest when he finds himself investigating a series of crimes that appear to be supernaturally evil in nature. Jerry Bruckheimer Films/Screen Gems, Rated R, 118 minutes.
The “Law & Order” of Horror Movies: This movie may be formulaic, but it succeeds when the formula it’s aiming for above all others is police procedural. The first half of the film indulges in its own mysteries, and it is a fun (albeit not that scary) puzzler that I genuinely enjoyed piecing together; I found myself intrigued by the clues we were given, and Eric Bana as Sarchie is engaging as he skeptically but obsessively pieces the creepy clues together for himself. The film even gives us a silly, underdeveloped but still fascinating and effective Exorcist-esque back story that traces the demonic presence back to a discovery made by three soldiers during the Iraq war.
The film feels like nothing more than a horror-themed investigation which was refreshing, although that may have disappointed some others in equal measure. I enjoyed the cop-meets-possessed/cop-meets-priest vibe, even when it grew more than a little trite (exemplified in part by the usual sort of heart-to-heart between non-believer and man of God in a bar). But it is about half-way through the film when Derrickson doesn’t quite know where to take that established formula or how to fluidly deviate from it or follow through at all, really (as exemplified by a lot of shaky, glossed over, or flat-out implausible plot details that are so glaringly stupid that they were a major distraction). So, instead, he meanders in this way until the film finally culminates in…
An Epic Exorcism (What Else?): There were positive and negative aspects about the film’s exorcism and the build-up to what is clearly supposed to be the penultimate, climactic scene of the film. First, let me just say that the film’s imagery in general is certainly scary at least aesthetically, and there are plenty of scares to be had that are well-paced, well-situated and unexpected; yet it is the film’s exorcism scene that is Derrickson’s all-cards-on-the-table move, a go-big-or-go-home horror spectacle, and as such, it mostly works.
For those who felt the film’s first half was lackluster or slow, this action-packed purging of the demonic, taking place in an interrogation room no less, probably comes as a welcome jolt of energy and intensity. I cannot fully agree, though. Perhaps in addition to the predictability that the film would inevitably end in an exorcism, the scene itself, for all its attempts to feel claustrophobic and unconventional in its approach, lacks true horror and suspense even though we know the stakes are technically high. As a resolution, the result is rushed and lazy and really falls short of its intentions.
Consensus: This film is hit or miss, or rather, hit and then miss, miss, miss again. What starts out as a fairly entertaining, even if not all that terrifying (with the exception of perhaps a few sparse and fleeting moments) horror procedural, eventually dips into not only conventionality, but stupidity and blandness. Unfortunately, at an almost two hour run time, Deliver Us From Evil starts off moderately strong but soon enough it slips from acceptably average to less than.