Take a good look at the one-sheet for Scott Derrickson's Deliver Us From Evil. See anything new here? Anything unexpected? It's a pretty standard poster for a modern exorcism movie, right? It looks a little like every other exorcism movie poster we've seen over the past several years. This is the right poster for this movie: serviceable, standard and utterly unsurprising.
Deliver Us From Evil opens with a series of scenes that seem, at first blush, immaterial to one another. A group of soldiers enters a cave to discover some unknown horror. Sergeant Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana, taking on the role of the real life former NYPD officer and current demonologist) gives a dead dumpster baby CPR in an alley. Then he and his partner (an unconvincing Joel McHale who is, at least, trying his best) make some hilarious jokes in the car. Now they're responding to a domestic dispute call. Now they're running after the abusive husband. Now they're at the station. Then they're at the zoo. There's a crazy lady at the zoo. She threw her son in the lion's den. This is a different kid than the dumpster baby. After the first twenty minutes, I started to wonder if a plot would ever arise from these ugly, disjointed vignettes.
One did, eventually, one you've seen before: that unknown horror has been brought back to the States by one of the soldiers, and everyone who knows him is becoming possessed by the greedy demon within. Sarchie - a family man, whose wife (Olivia Munn) and daughter complain that they never see him - is skeptical at first, but then finds himself teaming up with a priest/demonologist (Édgar Ramírez) to fight the hell fiend. Sarchie's wife, his daughter, and his daughter's stuffed owl toy all get involved. The whole thing culminates in an exorcism inside an interrogation room at the police station, and while that part is pretty cool, by then I'd already checked out too much to care.
In a way, this is Sarchie's origin story. The demonologist has garnered a bit of fame and written a book, Beware the Night, on which Deliver Us From Evil is partially based, but if you're hoping to see a movie about a New York City cop by day, exorcist by night, that's not quite this movie. Sarchie doesn't even become convinced of the demon's existence until the latter half of the film, when things start to pick up a bit. And things do pick up every time Ramírez is onscreen. He's very engaging as the boozing priest with the wandering eye who shows Sarchie the demon-fighting ropes. Bana is gravely impressive as Sarchie, adequately tormented and handsome, and his chemistry with Ramírez is very good, something that I think could be developed into a far more interesting, focused film. All of the other performances are fine, except poor McHale who just reads so much as Joel McHale here.
But no, the performances aren't the trouble in Deliver Us From Evil. Neither is the gore, which is quite good and imaginative and occasionally gut-wrenching. The problem starts just about everywhere else. The script is a mess - so disordered and tiresome, missing some imperative ingredient to make it a cohesive narrative. The dialogue is either unremarkable or remarkably trite, with discussions of faith and redemption presented in the most rote manner possible. And the movie just looks dreadful - it's so dark and flat, with absolutely no texture to the ceaseless grey and beige washing over the screen. Even the daylight is dim in Deliver Us From Evil. It doesn't look scary; it just looks boring.
And then there's this: The Doors (you know, the band) is a major plot point in the movie. Because of gateways to hell, you see. Gateways are doors. And The Doors are doors. Also Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger wrote many songs that can translate into easy tonal shorthand for a horror movie, something The Lost Boys discovered nearly thirty years ago. I kept thinking how cool I would have found Deliver Us From Evil when I was in high school, when I thought nothing was cooler than The Doors. But I was a stupid kid.
While there are hints of a good film in Deliver Us From Evil, it isn't worth digging through the tedium to find them - not for an exorcism movie like a dozen you've seen before. Unless you just really, really like The Doors.