The poster for ‘Deliver Us from Evil’ proudly trumpets the film it’s advertising as being ‘Inspired by the actual accounts of NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie’ – a significant retreat even from the standard horror movie poster nonsense of ‘Inspired by true events’.
To illustrate just how illusionary this flag seemingly planted atop the peak of Mount Truth actually is, consider this: if you wrote a script about a secret cabal of evil lizards and their nefarious plot to manipulate global events to their own dastardly ends, you could quite legitimately claim it as being ‘Inspired by the actual accounts of ex-professional goalkeeper David Icke’. It would not, however, bring it closer to having any basis in fact.
That’s a point effectively conceded by Scott Derrickson, director and co-writer of ‘Deliver Us from Evil’, who has admitted his film represents not so much a translation of bona fide incident than it does an effort to build a fictional narrative around a real-life figure. A similar sorta deal, in that case, to those old ‘Scooby-Doo’ episodes with the Harlem Globetrotters and Sonny and Cher.
What is certainly beyond question is that Sarchie is an actual human being who in the ’80s and early ’90s worked a beat out of the 46th precinct of the Bronx – certainly not an environment for wilting lilies. He’s since restyled himself as a sort of demonological troubleshooter, regularly performing exorcisms using a kit that includes a prayer from Pope Leo XIII.
In Sarchie, the interesting if one-sided short documentary you can watch about Sarchie on his YouTube channel, he describes himself as giving the finger to the devil. And it’s this entertaining blend of the streetwise and the supernatural which surely marked him out as a natural candidate for the big screen treatment in the eyes of that king of high concept commercialism Jerry Bruckheimer, under whose aegis ‘Deliver Us from Evil’ has been produced.
Following an Iraq-set prologue that sees a US army unit unwisely intruding on a subterranean crypt, we are introduced to the cinematic Sarchie, played by Eric Bana with a Noo Yoik accent waaaaaaaay more convincing and consistent than his attempt at posh English knobber in last year’s ‘Closed Circuit’. Working alongside knife-twiddling partner Butler (played, randomly, by Joel McHale), it’s swiftly established that the sergeant is deeply jaded by the horrors he witnesses in the course of his work.
He’s distant from his young family. He’s lost whatever faith he once had. Meaning that when he becomes embroiled in a string of incidents with a distinctly esoteric edge, he’s fighting as much for the recovery of his own humanity as he is against the lurking presence of sinister ex-soldier Santino (Sean Harris). Luckily for Sarchie, help is at hand – and rather handsome help at that, in the granite-jawed shape of Father Mendoza (‘Carlos’ star Édgar Ramírez).
So yes, it’s a case of good-looking cop teaming up with good-looking Catholic priest to act out their own homage to ‘The Exorcist’. You can begin to see why Bruckheimer reckoned this one was a bit of a banker, right?
Indeed, ‘Deliver Us from Evil’ often calls to mind the output of the late Tony Scott, himself an old Bruckheimer brother-in-arms of course. From the glossy blown-out lighting by DOP Scott Kevan to lines like “You’re sweaty… you look good sweaty” (uttered by a comely bar patron to Mendoza), the atmosphere evoked is less one of rigid tension than it is of easily digestible Friday night fun; an occasionally jump-inducing excuse for couples to hug a little bit closer.
There’s no doubting the interest and affinity Derrickson has for his material. Aside from developing the script for almost a decade before finally getting the chance to make it following the success of his low-budget hit ‘Sinister’, he also holds a degree in theology. But this added passion rarely manifests itself onscreen, as we’re instead presented with such daftly enjoyable moments as a corpse which secretes its own guts and a cat that’s been crucified AND disembowelled. It’s a funny old world, no?
And while Sarchie finds himself warned by Mendoza not to fall for any of the devil’s tricks, ‘Deliver Us from Evil’ is littered with just those: tricks, designed to distract from its frequent retreats into formula.
‘Deliver Us from Evil’ is released in the UK on 22 August