Read Nick's interview with writer/director Scott Derrickson here.
In his new film Deliver Us from Evil, director Scott Derrickson wants to deliver us into evil's midst. And the tensions wrapped up in that purpose speak to the space that he has carved out—slashed might be better—for himself as an artist.
On one side of Derrickson is the materialist skeptic who guffaws at Satan or evil or genre films, dressing up a quaint idea like metaphysics in red silk, horns, and pitchfork. On his other side is the sort of religious folk for whom seeing—being entertained by—a horror film (no matter how artful) is like playing with an Ouija board. (Please hear me: I'm not talking about personal preference here—no one has to see or like this film. I'm talking about Facile Moral Proclamations on cultural artifacts.)
You'd think holiness was vapid the way resisting evil has been so often recast as fleeing into ignorance. Or maybe Jesus' brother got his verbs confused? For both groups, it seems, Jesus Christ—the one who, within evil's midst, offered the model prayer which includes the request for delivery from the evil one—is powerless.
A variety of voice and vision is always good and will remain so. But in the climate I've described above—in which the materialist skeptic and the fundamentalist have unwittingly conspired to seal existence air-tight—an artist's voice can lend some fresh air. Her vision can open up the cosmos as if mystery just might be neither agnostic nor threatening, but sensible.
Referring to Flannery O'Connor as his hero and Mystery and Manners as his creative bible, Derrickson recently told me that the mid twentieth century novelist provided an effective apologetic for horror when she famously said, "[T]o the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures."
In Derrickson's latest shocker, an evil which will radically alter NYPD Sergeant Ralph Sarchie's life originates in a barren Iraqi desert, far away from the Bronx, where Sarchie makes a living policing one of the most dangerous precincts in America. That Deliver Us from Evil begins with a war scene before introducing us to its protagonist is significant—first, because of its dislocation from Sarchie. This malevolent threat begins wholly outside the film's protagonist. Sarchie's conflict is not merely with himself, and not even merely with other human beings.
This idea, that evil involves spiritual forces beyond human agency, is only further entrenched when we're taken underground in Iraq where three United States Marines are drawn into a creepy subterranean chamber. Above ground, we are horrified by soldiers shooting one another. But as the opening scene transitions underground, it suggests there is a war going on beneath the war.
And the war beneath the war—the spiritual one that we rarely see, the one from which Christ taught us to pray for delivery—is most horrific of all (note, too, that much of the investigation will take Sarchie to basements). The Marines' gear which might illumine the chamber goes defective, and we're suddenly experiencing the darkness with them. For the moment it's still an evil we can't see, and yet we've been ushered into the prospect of perceiving it, of even being aware of it. In the pitch black, we hear terrified screams.