The question at the heart of “Deliver Us From Evil,” a garden-variety serial-killer thriller tarted up as an exorcism drama, is not whether good will triumph over evil. Rather, it’s this: What in God’s name possesses good actors to make dreck like this?
Eric Bana, I cast thee out, in the name of SAG and AFTRA.
The normally respectable actor plays Ralph Sarchie, a New York police officer investigating a series of crimes that turn out to have a paranormal link. Bana almost holds his own, despite having to refer to the belief in demonic possession as “blaming evil fairies for the bad [expletive] people do.”
And with lines like that, we’re supposed to be scared?
Most of the frights in the early part of the film come not from satanic forces, but from animals jumping out from behind things. For a good hour, I thought I was watching a “My Cat From Hell” marathon on Animal Planet.
Bana’s not the only talented if misguided soul here, either. Édgar Ramírez is wasted as a sexy Jesuit exorcist with a troubled past. And as Sarchie’s partner, funnyman Joel McHale is ill-equipped to quip his way out of the film’s far-fetched premise, despite yukking it up at every opportunity. Ramírez at least brings a bit of class to the film, delivering, in his buttery Venezuelan accent, the film’s only heft (in the form of some speechifying about how we gain strength by admitting to our spiritual weaknesses).
Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”) tries way too hard to crank up the tension, setting the entire film in what looks like monsoon season in the Bronx and ensuring that no scene is lit by more than a police-issue Maglite. But I mostly blame producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who seems to think he’s making an R-rated version of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, ratcheting up his signature mix of supernatural hoo-ha and comedy with a boatload of grisly violence and gore. True to form, it’s a loud and hysterical effort, where quiet and creepy would have better served the material.
Speaking of material, the film is said to be based on the case files of a real-life cop-turned-demonologist. Instead, it seems to have been inspired by a stack of rejected horror-movie scripts found in a studio dumpster.
(118 minutes, at area theaters) Rated R for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout and coarse language.