I’m not a horror fan, particularly I’m not a fan of movies where demonic possession is the vehicle for horror. There’s something deeply disturbing about another entity taking possession of you that I try to avoid. So why did I go to Deliver Us From Evil, an account of a string of possessions encountered by NYPD Sergeant Ralph Satchie, adapted from his book? Well, because director Scott Derrickson is doing Dr. Strange….it’s thin justification, I know, but this summer has been a desert! Derrickson also did one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in recent years in Sinister. Evil is no Sinister, but I’d be lying if I said I got a lot of sleep last night.
Satchie (Eric Bana) and his partner (played by Joel McHale who’s miscast and whose attempts at humor are really tonally out of step with the rest of the film) are called upon to investigate a case of a woman throwing her child into a lion’s den at a school and from there a string of clues and commonalities lead them to a a three-man unit who encountered SOMETHING evil during their tour of duty in Iraq.
Derrickson’s real talent as a horror filmmaker is his ability to control tension through subtle psychological cues and tics until, at the end of the film, though you’re not quite sure how you got there, your entire body is clenched, bracing itself for whatever is coming next. It’s not Hitchcockian. It’s a completely different style of bringing an audience to a state of heightened terror that is hard to describe unless you sat in a whole theater of people watching Sinister, many of us teetering on the brink of massive coronary events.
The film culminates in an exorcism unlike any you’ve ever seen. It’s the most visceral….real (for lack of a better word) one that I’ve ever seen on film. It’s like a spiritual fist fight between the final soldier and the priest (Edgar Ramirez) who aids Satchie on his quest to understand what is happening in these cases.
That same sense of terror developed over the course of Sinister is conjured again in Evil, but the overall plot and structure don’t have Sinister’s tight pacing and brilliant twists. This is, in every way, a director’s film with Derrickson again showing that in his films he’s as much of a presence as the actors on the screen. That bodes well for Dr. Strange, that it has this strong a director, but for crying out loud I hope it’s not this scary. Even a shadow of Sinister is still a scary film.