In Iraq during 2010, a raid on rebels by the American forces was being carried out on foot when two of their party set off into a wooded area in search of enemy fighters, and stumbled across what looked like a cave. Expecting to find their quarry within, they ventured inside and discovered a place of apparently sacred significance which inexplicably terrified them: this was all caught on their cameras. Three years later in New York City, Detective Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) had just suffered a trauma when he attended the scene of a baby found in a dumpster which he failed to revive, but instead of taking a break he carried on through the night, paying particular attention to one call he and irreverent partner Butler (Joel McHale) received of possible domestic violence. So what was the connection to Iraq?
By the time director Scott Derrickson delivered Deliver Us from Evil, the claims that various films, genre efforts and otherwise, were based on true stories was wearing thin, and this was no exception, especially as it was in the most fanciful field of all, horror. Supposedly based on a book by an imaginative ex-cop turned exorcist, Sarchie, Derrickson instead took his name and invented his own tale around it as a police representative encountering what appeared to be a case of madness, then as he delved deeper realised there were evil supernatural antics at work here. The director had pulled this stunt before with the truly reprehensible The Exorcism of Emily Rose which took a real tragedy of mental illness and invented some bullshit proof that demons existed for its film adaptation.
If this was not quite as egregious morally - Sarchie was happy to spin his own yarns about himself after all, and was not as far as we knew suffering terribly for them - then as a film it was more of a letdown after Derrickson's not half bad Sinister. As if the improvements of that work had been entirely ignored, what was served up here was a mixture between The Exorcist and Seven, both very fine efforts in their way but not necessarily two great tastes that tasted great together, indeed the results were indigestible to all but the most easily pleased, not to say credulous, horror fan who wanted a strong dose of that old time religion in their entertainments. As if to make matters worse, the main lesson this took from David Fincher was that darkness (and rain) were essential for menacing atmosphere.
Which was all very well as long as you could work out what was going on, but here simply left the audience peering through the gloom to try and get a handle on what, if anything, was happening. Even when you did make something out, it was hardly worth it as the prevalence of jump scares was another development rendered a tiresome cliché by twenty-first century fright flicks, and even worse it was exactly what you were expecting from the movie therefore eliminating the element of surprise. Not that the plot bore much scrutiny anyway, including a supposedly professional lawman who behaves in such ways as putting his arm through the bars of a cell to offer a phone image to a disturbed woman and getting bitten in the process, or even a late on revelation that he somehow kept his job after beating a suspect to death with his bare hands.
You can accept there would be a degree of exaggeration and overripe invention in a horror movie, all that heightened drama was its stock in trade after all, yet Derrickson as the obvious auteur behind the choices was abusing his privileges to concoct what had turned into a real bugbear for the shockers emerging from Hollywood and even beyond: recycling. It was all very well being influenced by earlier movies, in fact it was a given since nothing exists in a vacuum including the entertainment industry, but when the same few devices were coming up again and again in this manner of chillers it was as if horror was eating itself in some ghastly, but far from diverting, act of auto-cannibalism. So we had co-star Édgar Ramirez as a hip priest on hand to offer the exorcism at the climax, Sarchie's young daughter victimised by night terrors-esque entities, weightless scares as the detective sees things that are not there, found footage extracts... you could go on, but Deliver Us from Evil was so hackneyed only those extremely fresh to horror would get anything out of it. Music by Christopher Young.