Deliver Us From Evil
Ralph Sarchie already knew plenty about evil. As a Brooklyn police sergeant, he's seen it all. He's dealt with murderers, rapists and every other lowlife you can imagine, even some you can't. He's so adept at sniffing out trouble that his partner, Butler, says he has radar.
And Sarchie's radar has led him somewhere truly black this time.
He and Butler first bust a guy who beats his wife. Then they investigate a case where a lady tossed her baby into the lions' pen at the zoo. Soon it's on to checking out strange noises and smells in a family's basement—which, 99 times out of 100, are caused by overactive mice and overactive imaginations. Instead, Sarchie and Butler discover a dead body.
A strange couple of nights? Perhaps, but certainly not unheard of. Not in Brooklyn. Then Sarchie notices some connections: The wife beater and the basement corpse served together in Iraq. The basement corpse used to be a guy who was married to the woman who tossed that poor infant to the lions. Oh, and the dead dude had just started a painting business with another old Army friend, Santino, who is now showing up in the oddest of places.
Sarchie soon discovers that Santino's painting business isn't just about slapping a little color on walls. It's about painting, then covering strange glyphs and writings in Persian and Latin. When he shows pictures of these messages to a Catholic priest named Mendoza, the father tells him that they're inscriptions that invite unimaginable evil to come hither.
What, we're talking possession now? Sarchie rolls his eyes at the thought. There is no God, he believes. Certainly no devil. He says that as a boy he "outgrew" God when he had to fend off a meth addict who was hurting his mother.
"God didn't stop him," he says. "I did. … Where was God when this was happening?"
Mendoza suggests that maybe, just maybe, God put Sarchie in the right place at the right time. And maybe, just maybe, God's still putting Sarchie in the right place to fight an even bigger evil.
As they sit in a lounge filled with policemen, Mendoza tells Sarchie that they could debate the problem of evil all night. "But what about the problem of good?" Mendoza says. What about the people standing and sitting all around them who are willing to put their lives on the line for others?
Sarchie is one of those people. While he has significant flaws (which we'll talk about later), he's dedicated his life and sacrificed much of himself to protect the innocent and bring the bad guys to justice.
Ditto Mendoza. The priest is himself no stranger to failings, but for the last few years he's dedicated himself to finding unhealthy spiritual influences and casting them back from whence they came. And Mendoza and Sarchie come to each other's rescue when needed.
The movie's title, Deliver Us From Evil, is, of course, a direct reference to the Lord's Prayer. And this exorcism movie is soaked with faith references and spiritual allusions.
Mendoza, we learn, was once a drug addict who turned to God and the priesthood after nearly dying. "It always comes down to a choice," he says. "I chose God." And while Sarchie doesn't believe in God when the movie begins (despite having been an altar boy as a child), the policeman is given plenty of reasons to change his mind.
We hear Mendoza recite prayers and softly sing in Latin. He presses crosses against the foreheads of the possessed and sprinkles them with holy water. He kisses crosses and Catholic medals, using them as talismans; crucifixes hang in homes and even on a dog's collar. It's observed that holy candles won't burn in a desecrated basement. And Mendoza notes that every faith on earth, past or present, has practiced some form of exorcism. Then, as Sarchie delves deeper into the case, the priest implores him to confess his sins (so the demons won't turn them against him). At first Sarchie balks, but he eventually (and wisely) relents.
As Sarchie's wife and daughter set off for church on a Sunday morning, the girl wonders aloud why Daddy doesn't go too. "I go on Christmas and Easter," Sarchie says. "Doesn't that pretty much cover it anyway?" But when Sarchie and his wife have another baby, they have Mendoza baptize the infant. And as part of the ceremony, Sarchie says that he renounces Satan and all his works and ways.
Iraqi soldiers stumble upon an ancient temple filled with human skulls, the walls covered with writing.
Sarchie and Jen cuddle in bed as they engage in foreplay. He caresses her middle, and the two kiss. She asks if everything on him is "ready."
Mendoza admits that about a year after freeing a little girl from a demonic influence, he began an affair with the child's mother. The relationship spawned a baby, which Mendoza thinks (to his sorrow) was aborted (though someone later suggests otherwise). He had confessed these and other lapses to his superiors, and they allowed him to continue his work as a priest (with the warning that he'd be kicked out of the order should he do anything like that again).
When he catches Mendoza staring at a waitress, Sarchie quips that apparently not all priests are pedophiles. And when someone suggests that Jesuit priests are often the ones found dead in rooms full of prostitutes, Mendoza jokes that there are worse ways to go. When Sarchie tells Butler he's going to look at "zoo clips," meaning security footage, Butler says that it "sounds like my favorite porn site." A nude form is seen in the shadows in a mental ward. The credits features artwork of a nude woman (with critical body parts covered).
The corpse found in the basement is bloated and gray, and its gut splits open, spilling intestines and a swarm of flies (which also escape from the man's puckered eye sockets). A woman falls from a high building, hitting Sarchie's car, her body grotesquely mangled with leg bones bloodily jutting out of broken skin. A killer smears blood on a victim while escaping. A man has his face sliced open with an ax before his assailant stabs him in the gut and heart, leaving him to die in a pool of rapidly expanding blood.
Sarchie discovers a crucified cat on a wall, its paws nailed to a makeshift cross and its torso slit open, leaving ribs and guts exposed. A man, who has apparently carved words and symbols into his own body, pulls his leg to his mouth, tearing meat from the calf. (A chunk falls to the ground, and his mouth is, of course, quite bloody.) Someone bites deeply into Sarchie's forearm, leaving a grotesque and bloody wound. Other people are cut and sliced by knives and such. A woman's hands are mangled from digging. Several people die in a battle. A gash supernaturally tears through a man's forehead. Bruises and blood cover a beaten woman's face. Sarchie finds the corpse of an infant child.
A few years prior, Sarchie caught a notorious child rapist and murderer at the scene of one of his crimes. He—and we—see part of the body of a 6-year-old girl stuffed in a trash can. Then Sarchie runs after the perpetrator and beats him to death. The man's face is bloody and his jaw is shattered even as Sarchie continues to pummel him. But Sarchie admits that even though he believes the man deserved to die, he can't escape the darkness that settled into his heart ever since—a darkness that continues to eat at him. "What you gave him wasn't justice," Mendoza says. "It was vengeance." And vengeance, Mendoza adds, always devours the vengeful.
Crude or Profane Language
There's a certain irony to the fact that both Sarchie and Mendoza are heard using Jesus' name as a swear word and in sacred rituals. The jarring juxtaposition is intentional, according to director Scott Derrickson.
"Much of the movie is about the sacredness of language and the power of words," he told Christianity Today. "Christians believe that 'in the beginning was the word' and that God spoke the world into existence. So there's something about the power of language in this movie. … The language of the film—all of it, from expletives to the rite of exorcism—is definitely significant."
Significant in meaning, perhaps. But also significant in quantity. God's name is mangled up with "d‑‑n" five or six times, and Jesus' name serves as an expletive at least 10 times. We also hear more than 30 f-words, nearly 20 s-words and a number of other profanities, including "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑" and "p‑‑‑." There are foul references to male body parts and an obscene gesture.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Mendoza drinks and smokes, telling Sarchie that those vices might kill him slowly, but not nearly so quickly as his previous vice—heroin. He tells Sarchie that his life turned around one day when he woke up naked, lying in a pool of his own urine with a needle still sticking out of his arm.
While jogging, Mendoza dodges into a bar, orders a drink and slams it back before returning to his run. "It's not medicine," says a girl at the bar. "It is for me," he counters.
Sarchie drinks beer and whiskey, too. He speculates that some of the weird behavior he's seen may be the result of drug abuse. Someone stuffs a broken cigarette up his nostrils to push back the smell of death.
Other Negative Elements
The world is subject to two sorts of evils, Father Mendoza tells us. There's secondary evil, which is the evil that men typically do, and primary evil, "Which is another thing entirely." For most of his career, Sarchie's been dealing with secondary evil—the symptom, if you will, of a more basic, malignant, supernatural intent. Deliver Us From Evil—inspired by the real Ralph Sarchie (who retired from the police force in 2013 but still works as a demonologist)—takes us deeply into the world of primary evil. And that's just the way director Scott Derrickson wants it.
"I think there's a real mystery to the inexplicable irrationality of true evil—both human and spiritual," he says. "I think that the more I work in the genre, the more I see it and the more I learn about the mysteries that can be worked in the world and how it's at work in my own life and within me. It's one of the reasons I do what I do. I am obsessed with it. To be honest with you, I genuinely don't understand why everyone isn't obsessed with discovering and unmooring a deeper understanding of it. If we're not compelled to gain a deeper understanding of good and evil, how can we make the world a better place? How can we find ourselves at the end of our lives and know that our lives were significant?"
Derrickson, who is a Christian himself, has a point. Maybe we should contemplate the nature of good and evil more than we do. Maybe we should try to discern what the two look like in our own souls—what darkness eats at it, like Sarchie's secrets; what addictions chain it, like Mendoza's failings. When we understand our own temptations and weaknesses, we can better overcome them and be a little closer to the people that God originally designed us to be.
Can a horror movie, then, move us toward that goal, push us in a righteous direction? Perhaps God will indeed work on some of us in this very way. Officer Sarchie has, in interviews, expressed a hope that people might see Deliver Us From Evil and begin contemplating the possibility of God.
But others may be pulled toward darker locations. Because while administering its spiritual jolt, this film also give us a mind-numbing pummeling with R-rated obscenities, jack-in-the-box jumps and a cat crucifixion.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Eric Bana as Sarchie; Édgar Ramírez as Mendoza; Olivia Munn as Jen; Joel McHale as Butler; Olivia Horton as Jane; Sean Harris as Santino
July 2, 2014
October 28, 2014