Familiarity the Demon “Evil” Can’t Exorcise
The press notes and movie poster for Deliver us from Evil claim the film is “inspired by the actual accounts of a NYPD sergeant.” This is a good piece of information to have because if I didn’t know better I’d swear the movie was inspired by other much better horror films and police procedurals. Ralph Sarchie’s book Beware the Night, recounts his various experiences on the mean streets of New York City where he served for 18 years as a member of the New York Police Department. However, it doesn’t delve into busting drug dealers or getting kids off the streets. No, it concerns crimes of a more religious nature as the former officer, now a demonologist, claims that he encountered many a supernatural threat and participated in more than a few exorcisms while pounding the beat.
As directed by Scott Derrickson, Evil certainly has the look and feel of an effective thriller, which based on the filmmaker’s 2012 shocker Sinister comes as no surprise. This movie oozes dread as every scene is suffused with shadows, the skies are perpetually overcast and the streets are pelted with rain. Yes, it’s the same dreary palette David Fincher brought into vogue with Seven and while it’s hardly original, Derrickson can be forgiven as the film does look great and its oppressive atmosphere is the best thing about it.
The relationship between Sarchie and Mendoza is grounded and interesting even if the rest of the film is not. Both characters are flawed – the cop is a lapsed Catholic, while the priest is tortured by his past – and together they attempt to fill the gaps the other has in order to solve the supernatural threat they face. The interaction between Bana and Ramirez is very good as well and the numerous scenes they share in the film’s second half keep us hooked and hoping these two will provide enough of a spark to shake the movie from its predictable path.
But alas, that’s not to be as the screenplay by Paul Harris Boardman and Derrickson comes off as a collection of stolen moments from a variety of different sources, not only using well-established horror tropes but stereotypes from the cop genre as well. Olivia Munn does her level best to inject some life in her long-suffering wife character while veteran comedian Joel McHale is surprisingly solid as Sarchie’s smart aleck partner who you just know isn’t going to be around for the final credits.
It’s a shame Evil couldn’t find a fresh approach to this material because there’s quite a few things that are very good about it. The two leads and the atmosphere are top-notch while the final exorcism, held in a police interrogation room, is about as good as anything of this sort can be. Unfortunately, familiarity is the demon this film can’t shake.