Frankly, it’s unwise for films with over-the-top elements to be advertised as “inspired by actual accounts” or “inspired by a true story”. Deliver Us from Evil is one such example. It does all it can to introduce a realistic environment. It’s also gifted with better performances than one would expect from a horror film. However, by the time a loud and property destroying exorcism occurs at a downtown police precinct, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to suspend disbelief. And the fact that the makers claim that it is based in truth seems even more outlandish. As a result, the exaggerated final act induces more snickers than frights.
Sarchie (Eric Bana) is a tough NYPD detective who finds himself stumped by a series of bizarre and violent cases. Most disturbing about these random acts is that many occur without motivation. As Sarchie and his wiseacre, adrenaline junkie partner Butler (Joel McHale) investigate, they soon find that the perpetrators are not only connected, but may be possessed. It’s a tough pill to swallow and it becomes all the more difficult when a priest named Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) enters the picture and shares his expertise in demonology. In the meantime, Sarchie struggles to talk about his on-the-job trauma with frustrated wife Jen (Olivia Munn). Considering what’s on his plate, can you blame him?
As mentioned, the strong cast help elevate some fairly hokey material. Bana does his pragmatic best to ground his character in reality. And there’s entertaining banter between he and McHale, whose amusing dialogue often points out the absurdity of some of the situations. Truthfully, one almost wishes the two had been paired in a police procedural that didn’t involve evil spirits. Even worse, after firmly establishing the pair, Butler disappears well into the background for a significant amount of time.
Ramirez has a tricky job as well in the role of Mendoza. He has to deliver a lot of awkward exposition and is given some very goofy lines. This is most evident in the film’s second half. At one point, the actor has to emphatically state to the protagonist that while most exorcisms are fake, “10 to 15 percent are real.” One isn’t sure where he got this random figure (not Scientific American magazine, one assumes), but at least the actor manages to deliver the material in as convincing a manner as humanly possible.
And for horror film fans, there are a couple of well executed jump cuts and jump scares. Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) knows how to deliver a jolt. Early on, when the characters are investigating basements and dim environments, there are some creepy moments. Yet, the story relies a little too heavily on the sudden sting technique. It becomes numbing over the course of the nearly two hour running time, with each pop up less and less effective.
When the final act veers into full on supernatural film territory, it seems at odds with what has preceded it. What is worse is that after introducing numerous personal and professional conflicts in Sarchie’s life, it wraps them up too quickly and without adequate resolution. At one point, a character suggests that the possessed aren’t in control of their actions. But it fails to follow up on whether or not they would be held accountable for their crimes if they were, so to speak, exorcised. Clearly, we’re not supposed to think about what happens after the events of the film.
Deliver Us from Evil does its best to build an unlikely combination NYPD Blue with The Exorcist, but it only works in fits and starts before ultimately crumbling. It would probably make for a decent DVD rental, but it’s difficult to recommend this effort as an effective fright film or solid night out at the movies.