But my expectations were set fairly high after Sinister, Derrickson's last film, which I found quite affecting in the way it captured the relationship between primary and secondary evil by locating it in the relationship between modern horror and the American family. There's not enough time spent on their relationship and in their home, so most of the scenes between Bana and Munn fall flat. And it's especially disappointing because it connects so well to the themes of availability and influence.
Scenes featuring Bana and McHale work well because they have a noticeable chemistry fit for bantering, and their limited time together never really involves a narrative situation requiring gravitas. I also detect Derrickson cleverly inserting his good comedian buddy McHale in some wink-wink conventional genre situations. We know that Sarchie has to get separated from his partner at some point, so it's smart to get a self-aware chuckle out of having McHale ham it up when he's possessed by a trope.
But even more enjoyable are the scenes focused on the relationship between Sarchie and Mendoza, mostly because Édgar Ramirez knows how to be compelling no matter how much time he's given. He gives the heady, necessarily too-brief conversations he has with Sarchie about faith and evil all the weight that three hour seminary dorm room conversations seem to drain from them. This is important because Mendoza, a priest with his own sins and struggles, is more memorable for his love for the suffering possessed than any jump-scare or grotesquerie the film has to offer. And that's a good thing.
In short, the Mendoza character calmly precipitates the main action of this film: portal movements to and from "the other side."
Shouting at the Hard of Hearing
Miriam Bale is right: the excellence of this film is primarily in its sound design. Derrickson and celebrated sound designer Paul N.J. Ottosson expertly define the dark visual spaces we can't see by orienting us to what we should be afraid of. But the sound in this film is especially enthralling in the way that it synchs the moviegoer with the sounds of possession and exorcism. The thrill of the climactic scene is not so much in how noisy it is, but in how subtly it drains you with carefully crafted surround sound.
There's a few moments when I felt as if I was being identified with the possessed, caught in the middle of the battle of influences between Mendoza's prayerful rite of exorcism and demonic babble. I hope moviegoers can sense how this film's sound design invokes viewer presences in a way that puts to shame the 3D horror we've seen.
Much of this film is about how we avail ourselves to influences and the power they inevitably hold over us—especially influences from the other side. Derrickson goes for bluntness here by marking the soundtrack with three originals from (and one cover of) The Doors. Knowing that Jim Morrison could break in at any moment is a clever entertainment, tying together the film's themes but also complementing its tonal range.