The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Deliver Us From Evil

I'm not a big fan of demonic possession movies. Let's face it, you've got The Exorcist, and then everything after it is pretty much a retread. That's not to say a few of them haven't been moderately entertaining over the years. Some have, but aren't they all kind of derivative? (That's a rhetorical question. The answer is yes.) Deliver Us From Evil isn't really all that different. It has everything you'd expect. It also has something just a bit more, which is what makes it noteworthy.

As seems to be the requirement these days, the movie purports to be true, or, in this case, “inspired by the actual accounts of an NYPD sergeant.” That's movie talk for There's a seed of truth in here somewhere and everything else is completely made up. Eric Bana plays Ralph Sarchie, a cop with a hot wife, Jen (Olivia Munn), and an adorable six-year-old daughter. He's also got “radar” that lets him sense when a potential case will be interesting. Sarchie and his partner, Butler (Joel McHale), respond to just such a call one night. It involves a wife abuser. Another case they take sends them to the zoo, where a woman inexplicably tossed her baby into the lion cage. Sarchie eventually discovers unexplained connections between these two cases. Then a renegade priest named Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) crosses his path, explaining that demonic possession may be accounting for some of the strange goings-on, and that Sarchie's “radar” may actually allow him to be in communication with the demon that's creating all the havoc.

That's a really simplified description of the plot, which is fine, because Deliver Us From Evil - at least on the surface – is pretty formulaic. There are people walking around with dead eyes, and others who speak in bizarre guttural noises. Possessed souls contort into animalistic positions. Blood and other bodily fluids ooze. Lights flicker. Doors slam shut on their own. Windows shatter. There is an exorcism conducted by Mendoza on a violently stormy night. You know the drill. Anyone who has ever seen a movie of this sort will also be able to guess what happens to Butler. And to Jen and the little girl, for that matter. There's barely a note here that hasn't been hit before. Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) at least does it all stylishly, producing a few legitimate “jump moments” and giving the film a dank, depressing, Seven-esque visual style.

What distinguishes Deliver Us From Evil is what runs below the surface. This is not so much a standard horror movie as it is a spiritual horror movie. We learn early on that Sarchie has surrendered his faith. Years of seeing violent, unfathomable crimes has led to the belief that God cannot exist in a world so full of evil. Then he encounters a different type of evil, the type against which a gun is useless. The type that cannot be arrested and sent to jail. Mendoza encourages Sarchie to look within himself and explore the things that caused him to stop believing. He does, and realizes that if true demonic evil really does exist in the world – and if his department-approved methods of fighting evil are inadequate when facing it – then he must consider the possibility that a new weapon needs to go into his arsenal. At the end of the day, Deliver Us From Evil is really about the need to invest in something greater in order to fight against the horrific things in this world that we cannot comprehend. It wraps that ambitious, thought-provoking idea up in all the familiar trappings of a possession flick.

Eric Bana is terrific as Sarchie, showing how the character adjusts his worldview without ever turning it into something sappy or preachy. He's well-matched by Edgar Ramirez, who suggests a subversive streak inside of Mendoza. On one hand, you have a cop/family man who looks like he should be the picture of religiousness but isn't, and on the other hand is a priest who looks like he should be doing anything other than God's work. It's an effective combination. Joel McHale, meanwhile, provides some nice comic relief in the kind of role you'd never expect to see him in.

Deliver Us From Evil gets bogged down in the requisite theatrics during its last twenty minutes. Then again, if you're going to tackle a deeper theme, you may well have to throw a few concessions to audience members simply looking for fright moments. This is by no means a great film, but it tries to go a little further and more personal than most possession stories do. If you can see beyond the usual genre trappings to what's just behind them, you'll find something kind of special.

( out of four)

Deliver Us From Evil is rated R for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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