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Peter T Chattaway

Deliver Us from Evil (2014)

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Yesterday I got the assignment, but then read an SDG tweet that a scheduled interview in his market had been canceled. 

 

FWIW, this was not a general cancellation. Scott did interviews that day, just not with me. I had been promised an on-camera one-on-one with him that day that never materialized. 

 

Luckily for me, Scott pushed back on the publicity people to give me all the time I needed for a make-up interview the next day (yesterday). He was very generous with his time and wound up talking with me for at least 40 minutes.

 

I must also say that for the entire 40 minutes he was consistently one of the most thoughtful, articulate and frank interviewees I've ever had the pleasure to talk to. 

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Attica quoted:
: In anticipation of next week’s release, take a look at this featurette starring the real Ralph Sarchie, NYPD Sergeant and noted demonologist . . .

 

For a second I thought that last word was "dermatologist". Now there's a movie waiting to happen.

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Attica quoted:

: In anticipation of next week’s release, take a look at this featurette starring the real Ralph Sarchie, NYPD Sergeant and noted demonologist . . .

 

For a second I thought that last word was "dermatologist". Now there's a movie waiting to happen.

 

 

 

:)

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I must also say that for the entire 40 minutes he was consistently one of the most thoughtful, articulate and frank interviewees I've ever had the pleasure to talk to. 

 

 

Isn't he?

 

By the way, here in Seattle the press have generously been offered a screening on the night before it opens.

 

I don't do that anymore. That's not enough time to do enough thinking or enough writing to offer a review worth reading. So, even though this has very positive advance buzz and I'm already a big Derrickson fan, I won't be attending the advance screening. If I did, I'd be required to post a review on opening day, and I'm not going to be forced to lose a night's sleep to get a hastily composed review published.

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By the way, as I mentioned in the thread about this summer's Glen Workshop, Scott Derrickson is teaching a seminar on film noir at Glen West in Santa Fe in August. A bunch of us are going to be there. You?

Edited by Overstreet

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I must also say that for the entire 40 minutes he was consistently one of the most thoughtful, articulate and frank interviewees I've ever had the pleasure to talk to.

 

Isn't he?

 

 

Yes, he is. It makes it ridiculously easy to interview him. Here's the text version of my interview (longer video to come). 

 

What does a nice Christian guy like you see in this genre? What does horror at its best offer us?

 

For me, [horror] is the perfect genre for a person of faith to work in. You can think about good and evil pretty openly. I always talk about it being the genre of non-denial. I like the fact that it’s a genre about confronting evil, confronting what’s frightening in the world.

 

I like the mystery of the genre. It’s a genre that takes the mystery in the world very seriously. There are a lot of voices that are broadcasting that the world is explainable. Corporate America limits the world to consumerism. Science can limit it to the material world. Even religion limits it to a lot of theories that can explain everything. I think we need cinema to break that apart and remind us that we’re not in control, and we don’t understand as much as we think do.

 

What about the flip side — the potential pitfalls or down side of horror as a genre? Any concerns there?

 

Sure. There are concerns for every genre. Action can become mere stimulus and mere distraction. When an action film is reduced to that, I’m not sure how healthy that is, at least in large quantities. Horror is the same way. When it’s reduced to mere scariness — or even worse, mere exploitation … I don’t think it’s necessarily a good or healthy thing, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Horror, for me at least, invites depth, invites moral passion, invites ideas that are to be taken seriously.

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I thought Anna set that forum up only for Glen alums, originally.  Not that it should be restricted, but at one point i thought it was to be a place to share work in progress etc.

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I didn't get to see this film before its release, but I know others have. I'd be curious to hear from those of you who have seen the film. What did you like about it? What, if anything, didn't work? Go ahead and link to your reviews.

 

I was surprised to read a bluntly negative review of the film in my morning paper. I haven't checked RT to see how the film has been generally received among critics. I'm assuming that the film plays well for a certain audience, and if it hadn't, the studio wouldn't have released it over July 4 weekend (it probably tested well, I'm guessing). But I don't watch much TV, haven't seen a single ad, and know almost nothing about the story beyond the comments here.

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I'm not a horror fan, so I'm not a good judge of what did or didn't work.  I do know that I hate the cosmology that is foundational for the film.  I've wondered why I hate a cosmology that is different from mine in this case, but don't mind it at all in something like, say, Lord of the Rings.  I do think there are some plot holes, but I've moved on and don't necessarily remember what they were.  One that I do remember is how the demon got access to Sarchie's house to scare the snot out of daughter with the owl toy and the jack in the box.

 

my review, which really doesn't go into all that.

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My review.

 

Why would a mother at the zoo throw her toddler over a railing into the moat of a lion enclosure? That’s the kind of horrible question that can look very different if you are a police officer or a priest…

 

Most films about possession, hauntings and other paranormal phenomena are structured as suspense or puzzle pieces, with a diagnostic or therapeutic approach toward determining what is going on and how to address it. Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose took a forensic approach, blending a possession/exorcism story with courtroom drama.

 

In Deliver Us From Evil, a mash-up of demonic horror and police procedural, Derrickson and his usual writing partner Paul Harris Boardman take a completely different approach. As a cop, Sarchie’s concern is not where evil comes from, only what its effects are, particularly when they are criminal.

 

Together with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Deliver Us From Evil bespeaks a sensibility that resists circumscribing the demonic as the special provenance of characters inhabiting typical horror-movie scenarios. The milieux of courtroom dramas and police procedurals are not normal settings for demons or exorcists, but Derrickson’s intriguing premise is that demons cannot be confined to where we expect to find them.

  

One thing that puzzled me about the film was the realization somewhere in the middle that the protagonist was not (yet) the demon-hunter he would later become, that it was effectively an origin story. That surprised me, because earlier scenes played as if he was already the man with the plan. I actually wondered if the tension might reflect different thoughts from different screenplay drafts. 

 

In one of the film’s best sequences, Sarchie and Butler arrive at a house where they find a Latino family sleeping together in the living room for fear of unexplained phenomena emanating, they believe, from the cellar. Pointing to a crucifix, they say the corpus fell off and broke.

 

Warily descending into the cellar with flashlights drawn, the two spot an object on a table that seems to be twitching by itself. “There!” says Sarchie, like an exterminator spotting vermin. The scene plays cleverly on the nerves with the ambiguity of what we see and hear.

 

After sequences like this, the revelation that Sarchie is actually a skeptical Christmas-and-Easter Catholic forced me to rethink what had gone before.

 

By far my favorite thing about the film is Father Mendoza. I've got quite a bit to say about that in the review.

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Three quick thoughts:

 

Interesting that the film begins in Iraq, just like The Exorcist.

 

Deliver Us from Evil reminded me of Heaven Is for Real, of all things, because both films are based on real-life stories, *but* they move the events up to the present day, *and then* they end with title cards telling us what the characters have been doing in the years since the story ended -- but since the films were both set in the present day, there hasn't really been time for anything to happen after the stories ended. In the case of Heaven Is for Real, the book was published in 2010 but it described things that had happened in 2003, whereas the film takes place sometime after 2009 (which is the date on the tombstone of a soldier who died overseas); and in the case of Deliver Us from Evil, the book (called Beware the Night) was published in 2001, before there even *was* a war in Iraq, whereas the film has a prologue in 2010 and the rest of it takes place between April 2013 and, if I'm calculating this correctly, November or December 2013. (I suppose it's possible that the book could have referred to something that happened during the Gulf War in 1991, though.)

 

Violence in true-story movies -- especially movies as overtly fictionalized as this one -- always makes me wonder if it was part of the original true story or made up for the movie. I guessed a few minutes into the film that Joel McHale's character would die, because he seemed to serve that kind of function, being the funny sidekick whose death will signal when things are getting serious, but I wondered if that might be too movie-ish and not true-story-ish enough. So I guess I'm wondering if Sarchie ever lost a partner to a possessed man. I also wonder if Sarchie has ever actually admitted to murdering someone, because I'd be surprised if there weren't any legal ramifications to that. (I also wondered if the priest glided past that aspect of Sarchie's confession a little too easily. Do Catholic priests ever advise people to "make things right" legally, even when they absolve the people in question of their sins? Just wondering.)

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So I guess I'm wondering if Sarchie ever lost a partner to a possessed man. I also wonder if Sarchie has ever actually admitted to murdering someone, because I'd be surprised if there weren't any legal ramifications to that. (I also wondered if the priest glided past that aspect of Sarchie's confession a little too easily. Do Catholic priests ever advise people to "make things right" legally, even when they absolve the people in question of their sins? Just wondering.)

I don't know the answer to your first spoilered query (I suspect not), but I can tell you the answer to the second is no, the real Sarchie has done no such thing -- and Scott says Sarchie ribs him about Scott turning him into a murderer.

Third question: Yes, priests can and do advise penitents to "make things right" legally, though they can't require it.

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Here's my review of the film which became something more akin to an essay. And here's my interview with Scott. He was very generous with his time and engaging in his answers (thank you, Scott!). I titled the interview "Prayer, Dark Mysticism, and Flannery" based on various talking points. And I just received word that Vox.com ran a piece based on the interview.

 

And many thanks to Ken Morefield for passing along the neat opportunity to go to LA for the press junket (and for the advice along the way!). It was my first such experience.(And thanks Overstreet for a bit of last minute advice, too!).

 

It was also great to meet Darrel and Nathan Bell at the junket. It made me long for an Arts and Faith Film Forum Conference or Convention or Festival or something.

Edited by Nick Olson

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My review.

 

  

One thing that puzzled me about the film was the realization somewhere in the middle that the protagonist was not (yet) the demon-hunter he would later become, that it was effectively an origin story. That surprised me, because earlier scenes played as if he was already the man with the plan. I actually wondered if the tension might reflect different thoughts from different screenplay drafts. 

 

 

SPOLIER:

But Sarchie never becomes a demon-hunter at all in the film.  He is only chasing a perp and denying his spiritual gifts.  When he realizes that his brute force against Santino is useless, he hands him off to Santino.  He never makes a profession of faith either - only a renouncing of evil at the end. That was intentional. 

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Deliver Us from Evil reminded me of Heaven Is for Real, of all things, because both films are based on real-life stories, *but* they move the events up to the present day, *and then* they end with title cards telling us what the characters have been doing in the years since the story ended -- but since the films were both set in the present day, there hasn't really been time for anything to happen after the stories ended. In the case of Heaven Is for Real, the book was published in 2010 but it described things that had happened in 2003, whereas the film takes place sometime after 2009 (which is the date on the tombstone of a soldier who died overseas); and in the case of Deliver Us from Evil, the book (called Beware the Night) was published in 2001, before there even *was* a war in Iraq, whereas the film has a prologue in 2010 and the rest of it takes place between April 2013 and, if I'm calculating this correctly, November or December 2013. (I suppose it's possible that the book could have referred to something that happened during the Gulf War in 1991, though.)

Even I don't know how you got April 2013 - where did you get April? I couldn't have told you that.  Regardless, your statement about the end title cards telling us what "the characters have been doing in the years since the story ended" is incorrect.  Nothing in the title card says or implies "years".  It just says that after the birth of his new daughter, Sarchie retired and continues to work with Mendoza. 

 

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One thing that puzzled me about the film was the realization somewhere in the middle that the protagonist was not (yet) the demon-hunter he would later become, that it was effectively an origin story. That surprised me, because earlier scenes played as if he was already the man with the plan. I actually wondered if the tension might reflect different thoughts from different screenplay drafts.

Huh. I never got that impression at all, and I skipped all reviews before seeing the film.  The early scenes played for me as if Sarchie was more or less an agnostic, most notably his confrontation with Jane in the zoo.  If he were a demon-hunter, he would have recognized (as Fr. Mendoza said) that she exhibited several classic symptoms of possession.  He clearly thinks she's an insane psychopath in that scene who simply needs to be locked up, nothing supernatural at all.  I was kind of surprised he remained as skeptical as long as he did - specifically if guppies (or were they bettas?) attacking and devouring an oscar doesn't freak you out, what does?  (I had a friend as a child whose dad had a tank with two oscars; those things will eat thing they can fit in their enormous mouths)

 

Anyway, I liked the film a lot, but not really as a horror film.  Or more specifically, I didn't think it worked as horror in the traditional sense as Sinister, The Conjuring, and this year's Oculus did.  There certainly were very frightening moments, but those seemed like punctuations in a story that overall functioned as an emotional/spiritual journey for Sarchie as he confronted "secondary and primary evil."  I think someone coined "spiritual psychological thriller;" that seems very apt. (It might have been in the video interview between Scott and SDG)  Another term that might work is "supernatural, existential cop thriller."  For me, the scariest scenes were the ones in Christina's room, because a young girl is more innocent, vulnerable, and defenseless than the rest of the characters, and placing her in danger was a very effective way to tie into Sarchie's absence as a father, his need for growth, and the power of the evil he is investigating without help.  In other words, those scenes underscore the plural pronoun in the title, which is one reason I found them particularly effective.

 

Also, what saint medal was in the closeup after the exorcism?  Was it St. Michael?  I missed it as it was turning.

Edited by Evan C

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SPOLIER:

But Sarchie never becomes a demon-hunter at all in the film.  He is only chasing a perp and denying his spiritual gifts.  When he realizes that his brute force against Santino is useless, he hands him off to Santino.  He never makes a profession of faith either - only a renouncing of evil at the end. That was intentional.

 

But surely at some point Sarchie stops denying his spiritual gifts and uses them for good? Of course I noticed you never actually showed that, but I thought it was implied. Not to say there might not be more drama and character development (perhaps in a hypothetical sequel?) before he becomes Sarchie the demon hunter, but I assume that's his trajectory.

 

If he never becomes a demon hunter (or investigator of the demonic, or "demonologist" as the real-life Sarchie calls himself), you'd have essentially jettisoned the central theme of Beware the Night. That would be … odd, it seems to me.  

 

Am I right in remembering the renouncing of Satan as a baptism scene? If so, you might not show Sarchie making a profession of faith, but assuming Fr. Mendoza follows the baptismal liturgy, "Do you reject Satan?" will be shortly followed by "Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, [etc.]?" The prescribed answer is "I do." 

Come to think of it, I thought I read you describing the film as an origin story, somewhere, after I saw it. Am I making that up? 

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BTW, all, here's the full 45-minute video version of the interview Scott gave me last week in Manhattan, which I excerpted for the text article I linked to earlier. (We actually talked for nearly 50 minutes. His publicist originally offered me 20, and I asked for 30, but in the end he gave me as much as I wanted. I wasn't wearing a watch and didn't realize how over we were…It's the only filmmaker interview I've ever done that didn't end with a publicist saying "Last question"!)

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf-mrSgR69I

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