I was saying only the other day that it is a pity that the studios don’t back larger budgeted horror movies anymore and here we are with a reasonably big one, with a star, a meaty producer and a prime summer release date. At last a studio is getting behind a horror movie ram packed with all the most tedious cliches and boring characters you could hope for.No one was hoping for this.How the hell did this film even get made is what I’d like to know. When did anybody sit there and go”hey, what we need is a scene where our heroes here a noise, shine a light on it and it’s a cat! ” Genius. Who’s ever done THAT in a film before? I’ll tell you who: everybody.
Things start promisingly enough, as these things often do. Moodily shot at night, a bunch of US marines attack an Iraqi base. But these insurgents are up to something more than just spicy food and suicide bombs. The soldiers go down into the underground lair where they discover… Precisely nothing as the camera cuts out before we get a hint of what is down there. So instead of setting the scene for the mystery we are left with no idea as to anything, other than the title, Deliver Us From Evil, which obviously suggests something evil happened. And we need delivering from it.
Oh that was it by the way, when I said it started well I really meant it started well for about two minutes and that’s your lot folks. Next, it’s a few years later and we cut in on a morose Eric Bana holding a dead baby in the rain at night. This scene sets the mood for the entire film: Bana, baby, rain, night. It’s relentless all the way through, miserable, dark, wet, babies. Okay, the last one isn’t true, we don’t have babies all the way through. A woman does lob her two year old son into a lion enclosure, which is meant to be shocking but had my audience in hysterics. But the mood is non stop, never changing, eternally glum. It’s as if the filmmakers had watched Seven and The Exorcist and thought lets combine the two but not entertain the audience in anyway other than with tossing the odd toddler… Yikes! Into the lion enclosure! Tossing toddlers into the lion enclosures! Jesus, you people make me sick.
Adding to this non stop mood of tedium is the sound design, and possible music. I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a musical soundtrack or just a soundscape through a dark world of crap, broken occasionally by a selection of obvious, but probably very expensive to use, Doors songs. Why The Doors? I don’t know to be honest. It might have been explained at some point but the overall experience was so mind-numbingly dull that my brain switched off several times during the film, or was thinking of ways to escape from my body so it didn’t have to carry on witnessing it.
Anyway, there’s a story I suppose. Eric Bana and his partner are cops busting bad guys in New York when they come across some former soldiers (yeah them) acting all weird and stuff. They might be possessed by devils or demons.
That’s it. Storytelling at its simplest. Bana’s partner is played by the very likeable, very funny and totally miscast Joel McHale. What was going on here? If McHale wanted to do this because he was trying to expand his range then why was he given all the comedy lines? In fact why is he making so many jokes in the first place? It totally undermines the tension of every scene he’s in. Oh look there’s a dead baby, let’s crack wise about making dead baby soup. Hilarious. That never happened by the way, but you get the idea. Maybe it’s too late for McHale to go serious on us as we’ve seen him in too much Community and films like Ted trying to hold a fart in all night, but he’s not in the slightest bit convincing as a copper.But let’s not blame McHale for his part, he tries his best. However, Bana seems to be asleep or reanimated or something. A girl falls from a high rise and smashes through his windscreen. Bana barely flinches as he phones in, literally, that he has a jumper. We all have Jumpers Bana, just some of us are more excited about them than you are.It’s not all Bana’s fault. A lot of his bizarre reactions seem to be called for in the script. For example, a priest tells him that now his whole family is in danger as the baddies know who they are and will come after them. At this point Bana’s wife rings him on his mobile, AND HE REJECTS THE CALL. “Anyway, Father, ignore that. What were you saying?”
The script generally is ridiculous, but only in the most dullest way possible. The aforementioned priest (Edgar Ramirez) spends most of his time rattling out long bits of obvious religious exposition, doing his best with what little he has. They have tried to make him a little different from the usual exorcist man of god, but only in that he goes for jogs, drinks whisky and chats up birds in bars, and then rejects them because he’s a priest. Weird way to spend your spare time if you’re a priest if you ask me.
A lot of the film, and I mean a lot, seems to be Bana and whoever walking down dark corridors holding their guns and torches in that double-handed kinda fashion that was cool twenty years ago in the X Files. When Bana arrives at one dark corridor there’s a family there looking a bit worried. They look at a faded mark of a crucifix on a wall, on the floor is the crucifix. “This is where Jesus fell to the floor” says a small boy in all sincerity. Everyone looks worried, apart from the audience, who aren’t idiots.
Also, there’s a scene where Bana confesses his sins to the priest, who absolves him of them. I’m pretty sure one of his confessions is that he ignores his family because he’s too focused on work, and that this happens just after he’s sent his wife to voicemail. She is kidnapped shortly after. But then this whole confession is a sham if you ask me. How is he absolved so easily? When I used to go to confession I’d be lucky to come out of the box with ten Hail Marys and five Our Fathers. One priest, who was also my teacher, even gave me a Saturday detention. But Bana gets a quick sign of the cross and he’s all sin-free and ready to go. Favouritism that’s what that is.
The big set piece is of course the final exorcism of the main soldier, valiantly played by Sean Harris, but whatever exciting ideas they had for this seems to have been jettisoned for the same old let-me-read-from-a-bible-until-you-tell-me-your-demon-name-then-lots-of-things-blow-around-and-we’re-done type thing. This goes on for about a quarter of an hour and if no one had ever made a movie with an exorcism in it ever before would still be incredibly dull. But they have done, many of them. One I saw even had a woman lick out a goat. No beast is licked out here, heads don’t even spin. Harris gets a crack across his forehead which looks like it might be a bit itchy but that’s your lot.
Director Scott Derrickson is next making Doctor Strange for Marvel. How is this happening? Deliver Us From Evil does not feel like a film that is properly directed at all, but something that is vaguely shot and then actually made in the edit suite. We all like Derrickson’s last film Sinister but this often feels put together like a boring music video. There is no personality to the direction, it feels like a film made by a committee, and maybe that’s what happened. Maybe it fell for the classic case of too many people working on it at high levels of creative control resulting anything interesting being sucked out in the process. Maybe thats the trouble when studios investing in horror nowadays. There aren’t enough powerful directors able to push through their vision and their voice. Certainly this film has neither. I think there is room for genres to be spliced together, here the buddy cop/police procedural is mixed with exorcism films. It’s a good idea. Its just not a good fil, and this is because it doesn’t have an original bone in its body.
Oh no, wait. That’s not true. At one point they find a mutilated cat that’s been crucified. It’s meant to be shocking but it’s absolutely hilarious. And that’s pretty original. There you go, one original idea in two hours: a crucified cat. Well done guys.
RIP Felix H. Christ