You know there's something seriously wrong with a horror film, if a flashback scene without any elements of the supernatural proves to be the film's spine-tingling moment.
And such was my disappointment at Scott Derickson, who has made two of the most atmospheric and narrative rich horror films in recent memory, in the forms of THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE and SINISTER. His latest feature, DELIVER US FROM EVIL is based on true accounts by NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie, played onscreen by Eric Bana. The concept itself brings tons of potential, but sadly Derrickson focuses on cheap thrills instead of mood setting and story development, qualities that made his previously mentioned films work.
The film's pacing moves like a usual mainstream production would- there is an insatiable need to cram up everything within two hours, and before we know it, Eric Bana has assumed the role of Jack Bauer, and DELIVER US FROM EVIL has become 24.
Also, the film isn't quite set on what it wants to be. It is marketed as a horror film, and there are elements of a police procedural, but the film gets unintentionally funny at times, especially when a bladed fight scene reminds us of THE RAID 2 (yes, that Indonesian film) but does not lift our spirits up. And why is there a fight scene in a horror film, you say? Exactly.
Eric Bana gives his best shot with the material, but as what you will find out in the climactic exorcism scene where we get a crash course on the "stages" of exorcism, his character doesn't really have much to work with. There's a strong moment earlier in the film where Sarchie (Bana) gets mad at his young daughter for being overly joyous (and he's just witnessed three gruesome acts that week), and for a moment we get a peek into what ticks him off, but that's basically it.
Even Edgar Ramirez who plays the Jesuit priest Mendoza is as emotionally lifeless as a corpse, so that when he tells Sarchie about his sins and about how overcoming them will empower him against "primary evil", we feel no connection.
Olivia Munn, whom you probably best remember as Sloan Sabbith in HBO's THE NEWSROOM is an accessory here playing wife to Eric Bana. Her character doesn't really develop, or at least get enough screen time. Instead we get fake moments of terror when a dog lunges onscreen, and the gullible members of the audience in the cinema thinking it was the devil already.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL feels like a bad mash-up of elements from popular and more reliable horror films in the past. The exorcism sequence brings to mind THE CONJURING; the use of music from The Doors as recipe for dread smells of 1408 and The Carpenters, and; the whole movie reeks of SE7EN. Even the owl plush toy isn't scary anymore after you've already seen it in the trailer.
By the film's third act, there seems to be a promise at the end of the rainbow, or blood trail if you prefer that. The slow motion shot as Sarchie brings in the culprit for questioning at police HQ immediately had me thinking, "if only they used that kind of cinematography at the start of the movie!" My imagination was far from reality, and the reality was that the movie made us feel that it was just a movie, which would be contrary to its objective of adhering to its source material.
And please, get a moratorium on flickering lights. I know it is a popular horror device, but there ought to be a limitation on its usage.