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Deliver Us from Evil

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
2014
Studio: 
Sony
Genre: 
Supernatural
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
A
Aspect Ratio: 
2.40:1
Directed by: 
Scott Derrickson
Cast: 
Eric Bana
Edgar Ramirez
Olivia Munn
Joel McHale
Sean Harris
Movie: 
4
Extras: 
3
Bottom Line: 
4

Regular readers know I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to films about demons, possession, and virtually anything involving the devil. Between my Catholic upbringing and the residual effects of seeing The Exorcist at an irresponsibly young age, I’m pretty much the target audience for these kinds of flicks. At the same time, however, I’m extremely skeptical of anything marketed as a true story (or, worse yet, something “based” on one), so when I’m presented with a film that is a little of both it results in a viewing experience that is equal parts abject terror and cocksure cynicism. In other words, I spend the entire movie trying to convince myself that it’s all bullshit whilst viewing most of it with my hands over my eyes.

I told you I was a wuss.

Based on a collection of “true” stories by former NYPD detective, Ralph Sarchie, Deliver Us from Evil opens in 2010, with a squad of American soldiers stumbling upon a crypt in Iraq. Upon further investigation, the soldiers discover something horrific in the subterranean tomb, but their fate isn’t revealed until four years later, when the film then jumps ahead to “present day”. It is here we are introduced to Sarchie (Eric Bana), a no-nonsense detective struggling with the very real horrors of being a cop in New York City. Fresh off the discovery of a deceased infant left in an alleyway, Sarchie and his partner, Butler (Community’s Joel McHale), respond to a domestic disturbance call at the home of Jimmy Tratner - one of the soldiers from the film’s opening scene. Sarchie and Butler attempt to arrest Tratner for spousal abuse, but the scarred and obviously deeply-troubled man fights back with surprising ferocity before he’s finally brought down by Sarchie.

That same evening, the detectives are called down to a crime scene at the Bronx Zoo to help round up a mentally ill woman who had earlier thrown her child into the lion’s den. The woman is ultimately found digging in the dirt and muttering lyrics to a song by The Doors, but they’ve also found someone else – a mysterious “painter” dressed in a hooded sweatshirt that, after a brief face-to-face encounter with the inhabitants of the lion exhibit, Sarchie loses track of. It’s not long after this encounter that Sarchie begins experiencing strange auditory and visual hallucinations that, when paired with his already preternatural ability to sniff out “interesting” cases (he calls it his radar), lead he and Butler to other cases that all seem to revolve around the mysterious hooded man. Eventually, the once-agnostic Sarchie accepts that what he’s dealing with is something of supernatural origin, and, with the guidance of a uniquely qualified priest named Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), exposes himself to a greater evil than he ever imagined.

With bits and pieces culled from Sarchie’s 2001 tome, Beware the Night, Deliver Us from Evil is sort of a “greatest hits” of the book’s best bits woven into a cohesive and extremely absorbing narrative by writer/director Scott Derrickson. What’s most effective about the film is that Deliver Us from Evil works as both a dark, Fincher-esque crime drama and as well as a bloody scary horror film.  Much in the same way as he incorporated the realistic courtroom/procedural element into the otherwise supernatural action of Emily Rose, Derrickson gives Sarchie a genuine mystery to solve, and also (for the most part, anyway) reigns in the supernatural aspects of the story by presenting his “possessed” in a manner that could just as easily be interpreted as plain old mental instability. Yes, the film’s final act does up the demonic ante, but, overall, Deliver Us from Evil is balanced enough that I think it would appeal to both horror enthusiasts and dark cop flick fans alike. 

The film is magnificently shot, with grungy, perpetually wet set pieces and a dark aesthete that makes for the perfect backdrop for Sarchie and Ramirez to hunt their demonic quarry, as Derrickson’s camera deftly navigates claustrophobic corridors and shadowy alleyways. Bana, Ramirez, and McHale all turn in strong performances, but the real surprises here are the supporting players in McHale, Olivia Munn as Sarchie’s beleaguered wife, and the great British actor Sean Harris, who is flat out brilliant as Santini, the hooded ringleader of the possessed soldiers.

This is a class production from top to bottom, with a great ensemble cast, extremely competent direction, and a look that’s as polished as fine chrome.  It’s a shame the film didn’t scare up the dollars at the box-office, because I’d love to see more of Bana and company recreating Sarchie’s paranormal escapades, but, sadly, this looks like a one-shot deal.

Sony presents the film on Blu-ray with a crisp and well-balanced transfer. This is a very dark film, both literally and figuratively, and the transfer handles the abundance of deep dark blacks and contrasting whites with aplomb. The level of detail here is impressive, and especially evident in the gruesome close-ups of our antagonist’s scarred, self-mutilated visages.  The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack compliments the creepiness on-screen with a spacious and enveloping mix that is teeming with atmospheric sound effects and jolting directional cues.

Bonus features include an enlightening commentary by Derrickson in which he talks about what drew him to the story of Sarchie and how it was something of a dream project for him (he’d actually written a treatment of the film nearly a decade earlier). He also points out what scenes from the film were inspired by actual events in Beware the Night and how he incorporated them into this “origin story”. It’s a great listen, and some of the stuff Derrickson touches upon is actually creepier than what’s onscreen!

Other bonuses include a collection of short featurettes, including

Illuminating Evil and The Demon Detective, both of which feature the real Ralph Sarchie, and cover his work with both the NYPD as well as his post-retirement collaborations with other famous paranormal investigators, including Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The Two Sergeants offers a comparison between the real Sarchie and Eric Bana’s interpretation of the man, while Deliver Us from Demons delves into the make-up techniques used to create the creepily realistic look of the film’s possessed.

Deliver Us from Evil is a stylish and scary flick that really deserved a bigger audience, and, hopefully, it’ll find said audience in home release. Sony’s Blu-ray presentation offers reference quality sights and sounds, as well as a compelling little collection of bonus materials. Recommended!

 

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