Ignore the trailers for this movie, they’re terribly misleading. Whenever you get a couple of trailers that seem to not even be for the same movie, then chances are that the studio has no idea how to sell the film. That usually means the film is actually pretty good, because selling a shitty movie isn’t rocket science, but selling a good one that they can’t quite fit in a box is just impossible for the marketing mindset.
Deliver us from Evil is quite a good summer horror movie, though it falls short of anything like greatness. It has a fantastic cast anchored by Eric Bana and Joel McHale, and features some truly grotesque imagery and tense situations. It has the decency to take itself seriously, with McHale providing the comic touch it needs to avoid complete somberness. Bana and McHale are NYPD partners who stumble on to what the audience quickly figures out to be a series of cases of demonic possession. But it does so with a lot of little details that makes the world it inhabits feel real and dense, as opposed to just a series of set pieces.
But the film falls into the typical possession film problem of failing to finish well. See, what horror stories have in common with mysteries is that their tension comes from the unknown. Once the unknown is revealed, the tension in the story diminishes and we’re just running out the clock and going through the motions to the anticlimax. There are two ways to avoid this problem, the easy way and the hard way. The easy way is just to drive a stake of a twist into the last bit of the story. This avoids the problem by not resolving the unknowns until the story is all but done anyway. Twists are easy though, and truly great horror stories do it the hard way instead. They answer the questions in such a way as to only raise more of them, to use the story’s resolution to leave you with a simmering sense of unsettled uncertainty.
Deliver us from Evil takes neither route, having the honesty to not take the cheap route of a twist, but not quite having the goods to do it the hard way. And so the last thirty minutes of the film are a letdown after a tense and well done first three quarters of a movie.
There are a few cliche elements. It’s set in the same city as Seven since it’s always night and always raining. And it does rely a bit too much on jump scares, which really do annoy the everliving shit out of me. They rely on the fact that if you zoom the camera in enough, the audience doesn’t have peripheral vision. The problem is, that people have bloody peripheral vision, even when relying on flashlights in the dark. It’s cheap, beneath the pedigree of good horror, and I am willing to pressure Congress to take legislative action against its usage in films.
One of the problems with the movie is a more general problem I have with the genre. There’s a line, quoted in both trailers in fact - one of the few things in common between the two - about how there are two types of evil, that which originates in men and true evil which comes from elsewhere.
That’s comfort though. No matter how horrific a horror movie, there’s an underlying comfort in the notion that evil is external, because it makes it beatable and it delivers us from culpability. A world where evil is external and not in the hearts of men is a more kind world than ours, even as horror is unfolding in it. It’s much more difficult to live in our world, where horrors that make the most vicious movies pale to cartoonish parody are commonplace in history. And the instruments are always, always the most common of souls.
I’m reminded of a point that Pratchett and Gaiman made in passing in Good Omens: that hell had stopped bothering to come up with its own tortures because nothing in their imagination could match the everyday hells our species had invented.
But that’s no reason not to see the movie, just an observation that it fits in its chosen genre.
Deliver us from Evil is a solid horror film, and fans of the genre will enjoy it.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.