Horror movies, just like your sex life, aren’t meant to be judged by up to two hours—if you’re lucky—of immediate gratification, but, rather, as a result of an accumulated summary of that which has passed beforehand in your experience. Cheap thrills, like the apocryphal quickie, may send your heart rate zooming one time, but repeating the thrill is difficult. Just like one particular lady who liked to play fisticuffs with my erection as if it were a boxer’s speed-bag, the effect of seeing the demonic possession of an adolescent girl as she levitates and masturbates with a crucifix in The Exorcist is simply impossible to repeat. For others a bit of the old in-and-out and anything that makes your o-ring tighten and your heart race are but one and the same.
A case in point is Deliver Us From Evil. Its director, Scott Derrickson, delivers to us an über hack’s Pavlovian regurgitation of clichés gleaned from watching Seven, Hostel and The Exorcist, again and again. Co-written by Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman, it is, like the Amityville Horror, ‘based on a true story.’ This tale of demonic possession, while it talks the talk about home, hearth, family, God and the warding off of the usual demons and devils, offers no blade of grass when it comes a lawn bereft of even a seed of the most simple form of characterization!
A fine actor with a great resumé, Eric Bana locks into a policeman’s sense of spiritual doubt and a deep yearning for God’s penance as the kind of cross he contentedly bears as soon as we meet him. Unfortunately, it turns out you learned everything there is to know about him after just a few minutes. A ‘haunted’ member of the New York City Police Department, his character, Sergeant Ralph Sarchie, simply ‘knows’ when bad things are about to happen in his vicinity because he owns a sort of radar-like sixth sense. Sarchie’s supernatural radar leads him and his smart-Alec partner, Butler (Joel McHale), to the peripheries of a clearly connected wave of demon-on-a-binge child-abuse cases. Every time there’s a bloody incident, while clearly possessed parents violently abuse their children, an odd wiry, human greyhound of a man (Sean Harris) daubs pig-Latin graffiti on the walls. How convenient that a drunken Jesuit priest, Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) always shows up to expostulate slightly slurred pearls of philosophical wisdom to temper Sarchie’s half-hearted attempts at cynical atheism in a city where you can’t dig foxholes in the concrete.
The relentless violence wrought against women, children and pets in rooms full of crucifixes, disintegrating edifices, suppurating wounds, swollen cadavers of overweight women and quartered cats, not to mention the kind of carefully laid out fetishistic garbage that someone that like, say, Banksy might make, hardly seems to be the stuff of an o-ring clenching horror movie, unless you’re Miss Manners.
So, it may not work as a horror movie, per sé, but as Derrickson and Broadman are beholden to the egg-omelet theory that if there’s enough grisly stuff going on with stabbing, cutting and a multitudinous overflow of thick viscous gore, they can still make every other generic slasher movie look like the French in World War II.
Had Derrickson stuck with the campy humor, like where the obese owl proves not to be stuffed after all and lets loose with the ugliest ‘Uggggrooooorrrrgh!’ noise ever, things might have been better. Satan doing his worse at the zoo in a sort of one-way, night-lit porn scene promises more than it ever could have paid off in such a mediocre director’s hands
I felt bad for both Eric Bana, who’s turn as a young gangster in Chopper (2000) is an unheralded masterpiece, and the comedian Joel McHale, who surely could have given proceedings a few added nods and winks with the help of three or four calculated ad-libs to interrupt at least a few episodes of blood-letting.
My best suggestion if you do indeed want some creepy gory jollies of a Summer night is that you prepare your Netflix campaign in advance and revisit The Exorcist, Seven and Hostel all over again and skip this abortion.