As exorcism movies go, "Deliver Us From Evil" (Screen Gems) is better than most.
Though sensational at times, director and co-writer Scott Derrickson's screen version of Ralph Sarchie's memoir "Beware the Night" (written with Lisa Collier Cool) does at least treat faith seriously. That's hardly a surprise, however, given the sober tenor of Derrickson's earlier take on the subject, 2005's "The Exorcism of Emily Rose."
Even so, its dark subject matter and some intense -- and bloody -- interludes suggest a cautious approach toward Derrickson's latest dance with the devil on the part of all but the most resilient screen patrons.
The film's credibility and effectiveness derive in large part from the profile of its main character. A no-nonsense New York City police officer and lapsed Catholic, Sgt. Sarchie (Eric Bana) is the last person to attribute the depraved behavior he encounters every day to supernatural causes.
So it's all the more remarkable when Sarchie's investigation of a series of peculiar crimes taking place on his beat in the South Bronx eventually leads him to suspect that more than ordinary evil is at work in them. He's helped to that conclusion by Father Joe Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), a priest whose ties to the church are frayed, but whose spiritual outlook is orthodox enough.
Father Mendoza's freelancer status and checkered past, the latter described at some length in the dialogue, may not sit well with some Catholic moviegoers. Yet, as Derrickson's script, written with Paul Harris Boardman, suggests, who better to battle Satan than someone with demons of his own that he's managed to vanquish?
At any rate, Sarchie gradually comes to accept the fact that his main suspect, Iraq War veteran Mick Santino (Sean Harris), is indeed possessed. But not before the evil emanating from Santino has begun to affect Sarchie's wife, Jen (Olivia Munn), and young daughter, Christina (Lulu Wilson). Later, Santino's shadow will fall over Sarchie's sardonic partner, Butler (Joel McHale), as well.
Whatever his earlier shortcomings, Father Mendoza certainly takes his priesthood seriously. He insists, for instance, that to be properly armed for his forthcoming struggle with the forces of darkness, Sarchie must humble himself before God, preferably by going to confession.
That Sarchie, for all his initial scoffing, does so indicates that "Deliver Us From Evil" is not just out to evoke chills. It's also, in the strictest sense, a conversion story as well as an exploration of the reality of superhuman malevolence. In the face of such iniquity, the movie suggests, only an active and trusting faith will suffice.
The film contains mature themes, occasional gory violence, about a dozen uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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