From the director of Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, insipidly-titled Deliver Us from Evil is everything one would expect with this fact splashed across its promotional material. A straight up horror in the guise of a cop drama, it clings onto the cliché of being ‘based on a true story’ by using ‘inspired by actual accounts’ instead. However true this may be, when an exorcism is held in a police interrogation room it becomes about as believable as Eric Bana being a native New Yorker.
It begins with three soldiers entering a cave in Iraq with eerie consequences. Switching locations to a dark and wet New York, police officer Ralph Sarchie (Bana) works the streets at night with his partner Butler (Joe McHale). They attend to call-outs based on Sarchie’s hunch that they would lead to excitement, and the latest happens to involve one of the returning soldiers seen at the beginning. Acting out of character, the soldier soon leads the officers to the other two war veterans, one being Santino (Sean Harris). What Sarchie experiences with them makes him question all things religious, and he teams up with Priest Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) to solve the case.
The plot isn’t exactly the most original, and clearly takes liberties with any situation that may or may not have happened (remember, it is only based on actual accounts rather than events). With its two hour running time it does tend to drag in places without really going anywhere, except for highlighting what a terrible husband and father Sarchie is by choosing to work long nights seemingly for the thrill of it. Once the inevitable happens, i.e., his family getting caught up in things, there is little fear that they would be in any real danger. Yet even with the cheap and nonsensical scares (a random falling toy owl being one of them), there is always something appealing about a mysterious crimewave in New York City, so it’s not as if this mishmash of the The Exorcist and the Poltergeist is totally unwatchable.
What also helps is that the actors seem to believe in the story even if we don’t. Bana, despite clearly struggling with the accent, is the dependable lead and the chemistry between him, McHale and Ramírez adds towards the camaraderie that is required for the cop element of the film. But it’s the evil itself that takes centre stage, with Harris the standout performer showing that his previous psychotic roles have come in handy when demonically possessed.
Deliver Us from Evil is commendable for trying to add something different to the horror scene, but as it straddles two genres it ends up being thin on both grounds without any real substance. Bar an excellent final exorcism scene rivalling that of The Conjuring, the only thing this delivers are dodgy New York accents and a lot of rain.