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By Sarah Ward
August 01, 2014
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By Sarah Ward
August 01, 2014
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With its shadowy aesthetic and soundscape of screeching and whispering, Deliver Us from Evil immediately displays all the typical horror trappings — and its familiarity only continues. Writer/director Scott Derrickson and his frequent co-scribe Paul Harris Boardman may adapt Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool's non-fiction tale Beware the Night, yet the history of the frightening on film is just as influential. Think: flickering lights, difficulties with children and animals, creepy incantations, mental institutions, and even an off-putting jack-in-the-box. Add: literal manifestations of obvious themes, with no subtlety necessary.

New York City detective Sarchie (Eric Bana) prowls the streets with his partner Butler (Joel McHale), their undercover operations drawn to particular calls by intuition. One instance links to other unusual reports: a domestic violence case connecting to a woman who threw her baby into a lion's den and then a family living in fear of ominous happenings in their basement. Their otherworldly elements are easily dismissed until Sarchie teams up with Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), a Castilian priest well versed in the occult, sparking a battle of beliefs on multiple levels.

Try as the feature might to capitalise upon a pedigree that includes a true story about a lawman turned demonologist, plus a filmmaker experienced in both the paranormal (as helmer of Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and procedural (as writer of Devil's Knot), everything about Deliver Us From Evil dwells in by-the-numbers territory. As the narrative lurches through a convoluted web of grim discoveries in alleyways, it remains a predictable pastiche of the genre.

Indeed, the blunt audio and visual cues that smack viewers in the face at the outset prove the lesser of the film's sins, evoking an on-edge atmosphere that is instantly let down by the uninspired content. Derrickson and Boardman divide their time between two odd couplings with care for neither, each character — the brooding cop, his wisecracking off-sider, and the solemn man of faith — constrained by broad categorisations. The same cursory treatment is given to Sarchie's unhappy wife (Olivia Munn) and precocious daughter (Lulu Wilson), with both mere emotional fodder. That the majority of performances are similarly rote is unsurprising, though Ramirez stands out as the sole source of texture among the blandness.

When the moment everyone has been waiting for finally comes after too much mood-building filler, Deliver Us from Evil dispenses an impressive and extended exorcism scene; however, the flash of sound and fury might not bring too little, but it is too late to erase the film's unremarkable bulk. The dreariness of its derivation just can't be overcome, nor does the film seem to want to. Instead, it wallows in suspension-of-logic, check-the-box horror of the flimsiest order.

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