Horror, like porno, can be judged only by its effect on your pulse. If you jerked in your seat, it served its function. Biology requires us to react to jump scares, just as it urges a lonely man to thrill to a great set of tits. But triggering a coronary reaction is a cheaper standard than making a quality movie.
Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil is an atmospheric but anemic spook story about a New York policeman named Ralph (Eric Bana) who stumbles across a demon-possessed crime spree, which traces back to a battlefield in Diyala. Luckily for Derrickson, this devil hates light bulbs, causing Ralph to spend countless scenes wandering around in the dark waiting to be startled by a cat. Even when he goes outside, he can’t catch a break — cinematographer Scott Kevan shoots this slick and sinister cityscape as if the streets themselves are possessed, and on the rare days when it isn’t raining, the sun is as weak as if Satan himself had drained it like a pimple.
There are flickers of camp. Comic Joel McHale pops up as a jockish cop who likes to fight with a knife, and an entire sequence is shot in night-vision at the zoo. (Lions and devils and bears, oh my!) One flashback to a mere five years before is so nonsensically grainy that it looks like it was filmed by Zapruder, and as Ralph’s wife (Olivia Munn) and daughter (Lulu Wilson) become targets, we get distracted by wondering why the family owns the last old-school Jack-in-the-box in the Bronx.
Yet despite the screaming gore, the movie is so rote that it can’t even rouse us for the de rigueur exorcism, here set in an interrogation room with a random cop observing from behind the glass. His reaction — a blurted “Get the fuck out of here!” — gets a laugh. But when the film remembers to cut back to him minutes later, we’re surprised to see he hasn’t already yawned and walked away.