'Deliver Us From Evil' is an unwanted presence

RedEye movie critic, music editor

*1/2 (out of four)

Joel McHale defending himself with a knife and saying “[Bleep] you” to a bear. A disemboweled cat nailed to a cross. These are not things you see every day. Otherwise, the terribly written “Deliver Us From Evil” haplessly joins the heaping stack of interchangeable exorcism movies. If the pile tips over, please just leave the mess and walk away.

In a performance sure to inspire questions like, “Remind me why Eric Bana gets leading-man parts again?” Bana stars as a New York cop by the name of Sergeant Sarchie. The name might sound lazily made-up (*chuckle* his boss must be Lieutenant Louie *chuckle*) if the movie weren’t technically based on “Beware the Night,” the real-life officer’s book about his encounters with demonic possession. Hold on; it’s not. “Deliver Us From Evil” is “inspired by actual accounts,” which essentially is permission to take a general concept (cop investigates possible supernatural presence) and turn it into a thriller as generic as its leading man. If this film documents startling events exactly as they happened, the “startling” part has been left out.

I’m not one to advocate for more CGI, but inconsistent director/co-writer Scott Derrickson (the good “Sinister,” the lousy “The Day the Earth Stood Still”) creates attempted scares that look like people with excessive makeup jobs were told to hiss and glare. These are supposed to be incidents that can’t be explained! I guess the shrug-worthy appearance of evil fits Bana’s performance, his New York accent laced with his native Australia and his demeanor confused when he should be at his most furious.

McHale plays Sarchie’s partner, and the movie can’t decide whether to take him seriously or use him as comic relief. As a priest specializing in exorcisms (sigh), Edgar Ramirez explains and explains and explains some more. Do not turn this movie into a drinking game—you will be obliterated.

A few moments do generate the intended “ick” factor. Yet Sarchie’s emotional distance from his wife (Olivia Munn) and young daughter creates no more than the cliché of a supposedly eerie Jack-in-the-Box. Unintentional comedy comes from Sarchie moronically putting his arm into a deranged woman’s cell and a connection made between demons passing through doors and possessed folks referencing lyrics by The Doors. I guess it could have been worse: It could have been Three Doors Down.

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