Jerry Bruckheimer perches atop his mountain of money, ruminating. The formula was there: a classic character, a bankable star, a dependable director, and a budget big enough to end hunger in Africa. How could he have miscalculated so badly? Why didn't they come to see his summer blockbuster? The Lego tie-in sets had already shipped for Capitalism's sake! What did those fickle insects want anyway? Suddenly last weekend's numbers ding his inbox. It's that goddamned spook show again! What's it called again, The Conjugal? Well, it's raking in the bucks while his supposed franchise-maker is tanking. And it cost, what? One-tenth of his movie.
Then, the eureka moment. Next summer I will dominate the box office with a spook show of my own, and it'll be just like The Conjecture. Well, not exactly like it, but, you know, similar. Next year I won't cost Disney a hundred million dollar write-down. Next summer I will engineer the perfect money-devouring horror show and the insects shall know me as their God! Bwah-hah-hah-hah!
That's how I like to think Deliver Us From Evil came into being. It's a horror movie that seems more engineered by studio execs than lovingly shaped by artists. I still bear good will toward Scott Derrickson for the excellent Sinister, so I find it more palatable to lay blame on the Bruckmeister. But man, do I have to lay some blame somewhere. Not that this movie is complete, start-to-finish, stinky-awful crap. No, it was much more frustrating than that.
|If I see one more piano-playing-itself scene, you'll be removing this crucifix from your colon.|
On the surface, DUFE (he he, doofey) looks just like a horror film I would love. It's got some stomach-turningly realistic gore, creepy possessed people, an occult mystery, and a kick-ass exorcism with some shit we haven't seen before (self-cannibalism, forehead splitting open, and neck unnaturally elongating anyone?). The acting ranged from pretty damned good to nothing to complain about. And Scott Derrickson made exceptional use of darkness, creating some genuinely scary moments. But something was just... off, tonally.
|Possessed woman showing off a little leg... bone.|
Maybe it's that the emotional stakes were low. Eric Bana plays a brutal cop who ignores his family in favor of the world's most depressing job. Or so his wife tells us. The movie really doesn't play up the neglect angle, so it comes off more as just Olivia Munn being bitchy. While I realize the marriages are often collateral damage in law-enforcement careers, but just once I'd like to see a movie where a cop's wife accepts and supports his job. Or where the superhero's girlfriend can grasp how saving a schoolbus full of blind children was a teensy bit more important than showing up for dinner on time. Point is: it's a played-out trope, and one that adds nothing to Deliver Us From Evil. It has nothing to do with the main plot; it doesn't raise the emotional stakes or elevate the drama in any meaningful way; and it doesn't even help flesh out the infuriatingly flimsy characters.
|What do you mean I have the emotional range of a New York City cop?|
Eric Bana's character, with very few exceptions, never shows a trace of vulnerability. He's your typical no-bullshit, tough guy New York cop who is always certain he's right until he isn't. Then the priest changes mind about some things, and then he's certain about everything again. There's a moment or two of worry for his family, but as our hypermasculine hero, he doesn't dwell on it and gets back to the business of casting out those demons. It's exceptionally difficult to get swept up in the delicious terror or a horror film when none of the characters show any real fear. Bana should have lost his shit. His character arc should have broken down his macho exterior, shaken the very core of his beliefs, reduced him to a shivering child, and then built him back up. But no, it's more like, "Okay so there's demons now, can I shoot 'em?"
|I heard what you said about my movie, asshole.|
I beat one Marvin to death already, and I'll do it again.
The final exorcism that is the movie's climax get pretty damned intense, and let me tell you, I'm a sucker for a good exorcism. Hell, I even liked The Devil Inside. Deliver Us From Evil's exorcism was just what the doctor ordered. It takes place in an interrogation room, and dudeman manages to rip off a straightjacket, then unseats the bolted-down chair he's cuffed to. The actor's face is creepy enough on its own, but the make-up job makes him absolutely terrifying. His performance is just right, he's frothing and spitting and generally acting an ass as demons are wont to do. He can't do much contorting while strapped to the chair, but for awhile it looks like the demon is literally going to rip his body apart rather than surrender its vessel.
Like I said, intense. And then...
...the single most inappropriate musical cue since Dario Argento used Motorhead in Phenomena. Mid-exorcism, I shit you not, Break on Through by The Doors starts playing. Twice. That, ladies and gentlemen, is horror of the purist kind. My mind didn't accept it at first. I laughed. Then that sinking feeling. "That just happened, didn't it?" I didn't walk out of the theater or anything, but for me, the movie ended then and there.
|You don't need no safety net when you're free-flyin' with The Doors.|
Maybe there was some truth to this "true story." Maybe a little demonic possession rubbed off on me. Because walking out of the theater and the whole way home, I was involuntarily frothing and spitting, clawing into my own flesh and uttering unspeakable curses.
Now that the kids are in bed, we can talk plot. How does this sum it up:
Three soldiers find some ancient graffiti, get possessed, and start a painting company to spread both graffiti and possession. A cop and a priest investigate a bunch of weird cases, find the connections, arrest their suspect, and perform a successful exorcism. The end.
A little thin, no? While plot twists are a bit overdone, I do like a story that at least changes direction every now and again, or includes at least a couple of surprises. “But Marvin,” some homeschooler interjects, “the movie was based on actual events, they couldn’t just change the story for entertainment’s sake.” You can eff right off with that. I stopped giving credence to that “Based on a true story” BS back when “It happened,” became the tagline to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and that was before I was born. It’s the advertising equivalent to “This is totally true. It happened to a friend-of-a-friend’s babysitter.”
But for fun, let’s take this “true story” thing at face value. What are the implications? For starters, demons listen to The Doors. No surprise there. But now we also know that writing some symbols on a wall opens a gateway through which demons can enter our world and possess folks at will. Good God, let’s hope that never hits the internet. We’d be overrun in a week. Oh, but it has to be written in human blood. No prob, I carry around 9 pints on my person at all times.
|There's the invocation. DO NOT let this image get out to the public. Oh wait...|
What’s the radius on this gateway/possession thing. Do you have to be in the same room as the invocation to be possessed, or can the demon open doors? Well, clearly it can close them, as it traps the cop’s daughter in a bathroom. But as far as I know, there wasn't even an invocation in the house.
|Wait, so now he's both the gateway and the destination? I'm confused.|
And can only one demon get through? I mean, that’s why they’re painting invocations all over the place, right? Otherwise you could just open one gateway and all the demons who wanted could cross the border easier than a truckload of illegal immigrants. Again, we’d be overrun in a week. But if only one demon can come through a gateway, how does it possess the 3 soldiers in the beginning? Hell, let’s just chalk it up to weird laws of metaphysics and move on.
Bana’s character, based on former cop and current
paranormal investigator Ralph Sarchie, admits to beating an unarmed man to
death. While the priest absolves him, there’s no statute of limitations for
murder. I’m thinking maybe that wasn’t in the book and the filmmakers just made
it up. Exactly.
So, why did Ralph Sarchie leave the NYPD shortly after the events depicted in the film? Surely if combatting the forces of evil on earth was his true life’s calling, the will of God and his finely tuned radar would lead him wherever he was needed. And with the police department’s resources at his disposal, he could more effectively investigate cases with a demonic element. My radar suggests he maybe had a book tour to attend and a movie deal to ink.