Screen Gems

"Deliver Us From Evil" is the latest in a long line of "inspired by true events" horror films.

This tale of cops, criminals, and swarthy, renegade priests opens this week to try and scare up some summer box-office business.

So who is this Scott Derrickson guy?
Derrickson is a genre director perhaps best-known for his other true story, religo-horror film, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." He's beloved by many horror fans thanks in part to a very open and engaging presence on social media. His 2012 film "Sinister" did fantastically well at the box office, turning a $3M budget into an almost $90M take.

Derrickson has also written several screenplays, including "Devil's Knot" for Canada's Atom Egoyan. He's also recently been picked by Marvel to tackle one of the more challenging characters in their canon, set to write and direct the "Dr. Strange" film for the megastudio.

Is this really a true story?
Well, that depends on whether you buy that an NYC cop would have a fistfight with a suspect without ever calling in backup, or be allowed to bring in a priest to exorcise a demon inside an interrogation room.

There's an entire subset of filmgoers who (as per "X-files") "want to believe" and want the most fantastical elements of horror films to be somehow tied to documentary truth. From "Blair Witch" back to Friedkin's foundational "The Exorcist," people want there to be some element of actuality into order to then suspend disbelief at the many twists and turns that the stories take.

For me, the most effective suspense or horror films can be based on fact (think "Zodiac" or "Psycho") while very much creating their own narrative. I would have preferred the film to start with "This film is total bulls**t, sit back and enjoy the ride" rather than have to be constantly reminded throughout that it's a preposterous tale that clearly bears little in the way of fact.

What's it about?
Cop finds case has supernatural implications, joins up with a priest, they yell incantations at demon, things work out. You know, like every "Exorcist"-style film ever made, except this one has the soundtrack courtesy of The Doors.

Who's in this thing?
We've not seen much of Eric Bana since his flirtation with superhero stardom in the "Hulk" film. If you've never seen "Chopper," you should definitely seek it out -- it's a tremendous performance (akin to Tom Hardy's take in "Bronson"). He's also fabbo in "Munich," and did a pretty decent job as the bad guy in J.J. Abrams' first "Star Trek."

Here he plays Ralph Sarchie, the NYC cop who finds himself embroiled in a whole bunch of crazy events. He's joined by the Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez (known to some for his role in the epic "Carlos," or as a CIA op in "Zero Dark Thirty") as that dreamy "undercover" priest who slings crosses at the demons in his path. Bana's cop partner is played by Joel McHale, the star of "Community."

McHale's buff appearance makes him a decent cop, but his snide asides come across as forced, as if his dry and sarcastic humour is tamed, and instead we get a couple groan-worthy jokes.

Olivia Munn plays Bana's wife, and while she has little to do in the film, she does it pretty well. I loved her on "The Daily Show" and she's the best part of "The Newsroom," so it's nice to see her getting some recognition on the big screen.

Is it scary?
Well, that depends on whether you buy into the film in the first place. There are a couple creepy bits, including some nice prosthetic makeup and a decent sequence set in a dark zoo, but overall it plays as more silly than scary. Derrickson doesn't go for the shock shot as much as some do (combined, as always, with the sudden blare of the music to jar the audience from stupor), but the film still has its share.

The film requires there to be little in the way of light to create mood, and to its credit they make a point that one of the supernatural elements at play is the fact that light bulbs keep burning out. Convenient perhaps in terms of creating bleak cinematography, but at least they try the light switch before walking down the creepy stairs.

Does any of it make sense?
No, not really (and there are major spoilers coming). Who paints their basement? Wouldn't you notice a dead body decaying down there? Bana has a working walkie-talkie, it's a major plot point, yet only after things have gone terribly wrong does he call in for backup. The final interrogation scene is just ridiculous, made all the worse in contrast to the fiction-yet-documentary like "Homicide: Life on the Street" feel and its use of "the box" to draw out a confession.

Hell, what's supposed to be one of the most creepy scary bits is a waddling owl doll trundling towards a young girl.

Finally, there's the Doors soundtrack. Yes, it's a major plot point, but after a while it makes the film feel like a jukebox musical, waiting for another instance where the spot-on lyrics of Morrison and co. can be used to heavy-handedly underscore a point.

So, should I see it?
I know a bunch of horror junkies that love Derrickson's movies, and they seem to once again really dig this film. From the first scenes I was unable to suspend my disbelief, despite going in with an open mind, but for those raised on a slew of crappy '80s horror, you might like it a lot.

For me, it really didn't work, and I found it silly and at times pretentious. I've heard it called "smart," but would point to the likes of "Oculus" for what I consider super-smart filmmaking, a far better (and scarier) experience than anything I found in this film.

Like the soundtrack, this film feels like a bit of classic rock, with general horror tropes trotted out once again so that fans of the original can revel in the familiarity. It's a remix at best of things that went before (originals that I don't have a particular fondness for either). For me at least, "Deliver Us From Evil" simply doesn't deliver.

"Deliver Us From Evil" is now playing in theatres.


Deliver Us From Evil - Trailer No. 2