* ½ out of ****
Part of me wants to pat Scott Derrickson on the shoulder and say "bless your heart" for this abomination of a crime-horror film, Deliver Us from Evil. I expected better from the director of Sinister, not an inconsistent plot with predictable characters. The film could easily be mistaken for a spoof of The Exorcist rather than an honest attempt to scare.
A running trend with horror films is the "based on a true story" claim: Deliver falls in line, borrowing from the memoirs of Ralph Sarchie, a New York cop who quit the force to become a demonologist. Sarchie (Eric Bana) and his partner (Joel McHale) track a series of crimes that circle back to a man named Santino (Sean Harris), a vet who was dishonorably discharged after serving in Iraq where he'd accidentally disturbed an ancient demonic force.
Bana and Harris play a cat-and-mouse game for an hour and a half - Harris' character carves strange symbols (supposedly "doors" between the spirit and physical world) around the Bronx and Sarchie eventually tracks him down. Meanwhile, chaos reigns - and it is hysterical. Sarchie's daughter starts to hear noises; her stuffed owl and jack-in-the-box team up to haunt her by rolling around and playing the creepiest song in the world. Victims of the possessed Santino are controlled by The Doors lyrics - I kid you not, I laughed every single time Jim Morrison's voice came on in the background - a horribly transparent attempt to reinforce the gateway theme and Santino's carvings.
Granted, itisn't a complete train-wreck - the atmosphere is spot-on and despite Bana's hilarious NY accent, the acting is pretty solid. Also there's a sexy Spanish priest named Joe Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) who teams up with Sarchie in the second half. But Deliver can't decide what it's about, with too little focus to develop any semblance of a coherent plot. Is this a movie about possessed soldiers? Sarchie's personal demons? Commentary on faith and absolute evil?
The repetition of jump scares and scenes of Bana skulking down long, dark hallways with a flashlight - I tired of these quickly, anticipating the final showdown. But again, potential for a real scare was wasted: the long-awaited exorcism is exactly what you've seen before, and nothing more. So points to whoever found that creepy jack-in-the-box, points to Ramírez for his perfect hair and accent, but all in all, Deliver just couldn't deliver.