RALPH SARCHIE, retiring from the New York Police Department
after close encounters with cases of demon possession, became an
exorcist. The film Deliver Us from Evil (Cert. 15) now on
release is - in words even bigger than the title - "inspired by the
actual accounts of an NYPD sergeant".
The film quickly starts to give us the equivalent of a
white-knuckle ride. And a very good one it is, because it doesn't
solely rely on horror to get us through almost two hours'
examination of the mystery of evil. The director, Scott Derrickson,
has been this way before. Included in his past films is The
Exorcism of Emily Rose (Arts, 25 November 2005) where a
(real-life) priest is tried for homicide after a botched ministry
of deliverance. Deliverance is also at the heart of this new film,
but who is its primary target? As the piece progresses, we come to
realise that it's Sarchie himself.
Eric Bana plays this gritty Bronx cop beset by everyday demons
of cruelty, vice, and downright wickedness: crazy people doing
horrible things, a baby left to die down a side street, domestic
violence, etc. All is enough to make him, an erstwhile Roman
Catholic, a Manichaean figure, convinced that his beat (and
therefore the world) is incapable of goodness. When it becomes
clear that a number of unpleasant incidents are all connected to
one man's wall-painting, Sarchie comes to believe that the artist
is demonically possessed.
The Church, in the form of Fr Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez), has
already discerned this. And, while there are all the thrills and
spills you would expect of a Jerry Bruckheimer production, the
heart of the story is Sarchie's slow return to faith. Demon-busting
is relatively easy. Something wicked this way comes; therefore,
attack it. But why, Sarchie asks of the priest, is a God-created
world so wayward, so evil? Mendoza points the policeman in the
direction of his own inner being and its struggle for goodness to
From what we know of the film's director, this work is something
of a spiritual odyssey personally. Derrickson was brought up in a
fundamentalist household, and, after much soul-searching, is now a
devout Presbyterian. Where Bana's portrayal probably differs from
the real-life demonologist is that it doesn't depend only on
interpreting seemingly paranormal occurrences in the way Sarchie
continues to do. The film's policeman undergoes a faith journey
that is just as interesting as whatever causes all those things
that go bump in the night.
WHEN a film includes a song titled "Act of the Apostle", someone
named Eve who is juxtaposed with an apple tree, and an expressed
conviction that all creativity comes from God, it isn't hard to
guess that the director, Stuart Murdoch, has an interest in faith.
His film God Help the Girl (Cert. 15) is less clunky a
statement of belief than it sounds, and is presented - a rare genre
nowadays - as a musical. That is mainly because it is based on a
2009 concept album by Murdoch's group Belle and Sebastian, whose
songs are often infused with religious concerns.
Eve suffers from depression and an eating disorder. She is a
girl in need of divine help. Interestingly, her therapist's name is
Miss Browning (Cora Bissett), which feels an in-joke, because Eve
is played by Emily Browning. The therapist asks Eve when she
stopped feeling good about herself. "Till I moved away from home,"
she says, which was Australia.
Given the apple-tree image accompanying that remark, we're meant
to read this as Eden, now a world away. Breaking into song, as she
frequently does, she questions herself with "Is this your soul
you're facing?". She happens upon James (Olly Alexander), a
would-be musician, working as a lifeguard. "So you're always saving
people?" she says. He goes about saving Eve by means of music.
They form a band with an acquaintance, Cassie (Hannah Murray),
and are not overnight successes. We can't guarantee we'll ever be,
James says. Only God can, and that will manifest itself whenever
someone manages to write a classic song. This is, in effect, the
same argument as the envious Salieri posits in Sir Peter Shaffer's
Amadeus. While James goes off in the direction of church
to take stock of his life, Eve (like Murdoch himself) finds Jesus
with the help of a masseur's healing touch. But these faith
experiences remain statements that are never explored.
One doesn't expect much realism in musicals - Eve, an
impecunious student, wears more changes of clothing than Naomi
Campbell and Kate Moss could muster on a combined fashion shoot -
but at best they magnificently illustrate some deeper truths about
ourselves. This film doesn't.
The songs, more choreographed than danced, are punctuated with
myriad shots, making it reminiscent of pop videos rather than,
despite its urban locations (Glasgow), the likes of West Side
Story. These youngsters are having fun, even if much of the
time we're not. It is also regrettable that the film starts with
the words "I'm bored out of my mind." They are a hostage to fortune
when critics are around.