Classed up by its cast, "Deliver Us From Evil" concludes with a deliverance from evil in the form of a rip-roaring exorcism, simply staged in a police interrogation room, though goosed up with the usual barrage of digital effects. Routine in nearly every aspect, the movie cannot be accused of holding out on its audience. The evil's delivered, and then dealt with.
Co-writer and director Scott Derrickson's extremely loose adaptation of the book "Beware the Night" (the film's original, less evil title) concerns the book's co-author, New York Police Department sergeant Ralph Sarchie, played in the film by Eric Bana. Initially a skeptic, this death-haunted cop joins forces with a rogue priest with a checkered past, played by Edgar Ramirez, who starred in the Olivier Assayas terrorism biopic "Carlos." Not yet entirely fluent in English, Ramirez clips off the ends of his sentences and burrows into the recesses of his character, letting Bana do the heavy dramatic lifting.
Rather than establishing and then following a straightforward, compact case of alleged true-life possession, as did last year's gem "The Conjuring," "Deliver Us From Evil" finds evil all over the Bronx, where Sarchie works the 46th Precinct and has seen a lion's share of inhumane behavior long before true evil shows up. A prologue finds an Iraq War veteran, Santino (Sean Harris), encountering ominous cave inscriptions scrawled in Latin. A combat videographer, he records the scene until the devil unleashes a swarm of bees, or something, near a pile of human skulls. The footage cuts abruptly to black.
The soldier comes home, alive but demonized. He opens up a house-painting business, and one can imagine the Angie's List description: "Santino's great! VERY intense. He's possessed, so he really does work like the devil."
Derrickson made "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" nearly a decade ago, a rather better example of this genre. As Santino's pernicious influence spreads, several other characters come under his spell. The story sorts through them all, dutifully, beginning with the domestic disturbance call answered by Sarchie and his partner, a smirk in a turned-around baseball cap as portrayed by Joel McHale.
An atmosphere of dread is established the old-fashioned way: by placing various children at risk. Sarchie's own past has been stained by his capture of a murderous child molester. Derrickson exploits all this in a half-and-half way; half the time, "Deliver Us From Evil" is genuinely interested in Sarchie's all-too-human demons, and half the time we're marking time until the big exorcism and an ending that keeps the door open for a sequel, should the market demand it.
"Deliver Us From Evil" - 2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout, and language)
Running time: 1:58
Opens: WednesdayCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun