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Review: 'Deliver Us From Evil' will send your bull detectors into overdrive

The "inspired" by "actual accounts" exorcism tale "Deliver Us From Evil" claims to depict actual supernatural horrors, but keeps losing credibility.

Edgar Ramirez is a hunk of priest who helps Eric Bana in "Deliver Us From Evil." Credit: Andrew Schwartz Edgar Ramirez is a hunk of priest who helps Eric Bana in "Deliver Us From Evil."
Credit: Andrew Schwartz

'Deliver Us From Evil'
Director: Scott Derrickson
Stars: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez
Rating: R
1 Globe

Horror films that claim to be based on fact are just begging to be called on their bull. This goes triple for movies about the supernatural. It’s not enough for some movies to scare people with tales of ghosts and demons. Films like the new “Deliver Us From Evil” claim to hold the truth about the unknowable, which they’re taking to you, the people, not to snooty scientists who will say the stories lack evidence. Here are some ways “Deliver Us From Evil” gets it wrong:

It’s not even ‘based on a true story’


“Deliver Us From Evil” claims to be “inspired” by “actual accounts” related by NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie. It might as well read, “Whatever this guy says happened is pretty boring, so we just made up our own story.” Pretending your tall tale is based in fact is old hat; "The Blair Witch Project" used it more as a William Castle marketing ploy before revealing its actors were alive and ready for more work. But this is the kind that exaggerates its verisimilitude when it could easily have just offered another ghost story. It smacks of a lack of confidence in the material, as if the only way it would get under your skin is if it convinced you it was real.“The Exorcist,” the grandfather of the exorcism genre, was loosely inspired by a 1949 account, but it went off on its own thing and didn’t hammer that home in the ad campaign. It knew it had the skills to scare without pretending to be fact.

This probably didn't happen in real life. Credit: Andrew Schwartz This probably didn't happen in real life.
Credit: Andrew Schwartz

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It’s not very convincing anyway


Eric Bana — a fine actor who would get meatier roles had anyone but critics seen 2000's "Chopper" — adopts a broad New Jersey accent to play Sarchie, a hardened Bronx cop who finds a string of civilians doing crazy things. He’s soon convinced by a Jesuit priest (Edgar Ramirez) that they’re not crazy — they’re possessed, in league with an angry demon, as opposed to that nice kind of demon. But no one would ever think the victims in this film — with their creepy voices, diseased skin and appetite for human flesh — were simply nuts. Some of them can even levitate and impersonate voices and burst lightbulbs as they flood rooms with fog — over-the-top business that makes the head-spinning and green vomit in “The Exorcist” look like documentary footage. (To its credit, the actor getting exorcised, Sean Harris, is a fine ham.) Director Scott Derrickson — who pulled this crap before with “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” — aims for a gritty, grimy cop movie look (the Bronx has never been darker), then undercuts the verisimilitude with supernatural scenes that look like the light show portion of a David Copperfield magic trick.In other words, it's only a movie.

Olivia Munn tries to convince her husband (Eric Bana) to come to church in "Deliver Us From Evil." Credit: Andrew Schwartz Olivia Munn tries to convince her husband (Eric Bana) to come to church in "Deliver Us From Evil."
Credit: Andrew Schwartz

It’s propaganda too


“The Exorcist” was made by William Friedkin, a man of no denomination, but it still explored crises of faith, building around characters wrestling with discovering (in the film) that their worst fears about the after life were true. “Deliver Us From Evil” is a mere scared straight story. Sarchie starts off as a gruff materialist who refuses to go to church with his wife (Olivia Munn, acting primarily with her accent). He’s also a workaholic, so he has another hurdle to get over. The chief arc has him coming back to the church, as this is little more than an R-rated attempt to get lapsed Catholics back to the fold by claiming a bunch of special effects really happened.

Joel McHale can't help but look like he's in a hilarious "Community" bit in the dark exorcism horror "Deliver Us From Evil." Credit: Andrew Schwartz Joel McHale can't help but look like he's in a hilarious "Community" bit in the dark exorcism horror "Deliver Us From Evil."
Credit: Andrew Schwartz

It’s silly in even less productive ways


“Deliver Us From Evil” doesn’t have a lot of credibility, but what little it does goes out the window every time Joel McHale swings by. A talented comic actor (and regular actor), he’s been distractingly miscast as a tough, tattooed, wisecracking cop with a backwards baseball hat and an Alice in Chains tee. It’s not his fault he looks like he’s in an extended “Community” parody, but he does. Almost as giggle-inducing is Edgar Ramirez as the token Jesuit priest, who hips Sarchie to what’s really going on. But he’s no mere priest: he’s a hunk priest, one who doesn’t wear a collar, eye-bangs hotties in bars and chain-smokes while knocking back whiskey. Not since Matthew McConaughey in “Contact” have the penitent seemed so humpable.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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