Scott Derrickson has directed a number of major films, including notable contributions to his beloved horror genre: The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. And he was recently tapped to direct the upcoming Marvel film Dr. Strange.
We interviewed Derrickson—a Christian with a love for mystery—nearly a decade ago, and in 2002 he wrote an article ("Behind the Lens") for the Christian Century about inhabiting the world of American filmmaking as a Christian. Derrickson has also taught seminar workshops about film noir at IMAGEJournal's Glen Workshop. When he's speaking of his work, Derrickson references the Biblical injunction to expose evil with light—a compelling sensibility in the world of cinema.
Derrickson's latest film, Deliver Us from Evil, releases this Wednesday, July 2. It's inspired by Beware the Night, a memoir that chronicles Ralph Sarchie's time as a sergeant in the New York City Police Department. Sarchie worked in the South Bronx, where he began investigating cases of paranormal activity and demonic possession. A devout Catholic, Sarchie is said to have made over 300 arrests and won 7 medals (he's since retired from the NYPD), while also assisting in over 20 exorcisms.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Derrickson after seeing Deliver Us from Evil. He was generous with his time and engaging in his interaction.
What has drawn you to Ralph Sarchie's story for so many years—such that when studio executives came to you after Sinister and asked what you wanted to do next, this project was at the top of your list?
I stayed in touch with Ralph over the years, and I think it was the guy—the person himself—and the fact that he remained one of the more interesting people I've met in my life. Specifically, he was a really hardcore cop who, at the time of my meeting him, was working in the Bronx in the most violent precinct in the country. It was known as the most dangerous square mile in America.
He was working undercover with a team trying to catch crimes as they're happening and witnessing a kind of evil night to night that even the most seasoned cops don't experience. And then he started witnessing the paranormal. He always felt like a character I would want to see on the screen.
Given your film's title and what's involved in exorcism within the Catholic Church, it's inevitable that prayer is significant in this film in which Jesus is both a curse on the lips and a power to silence the cursed. How does communication with "the other side" play into the drama of Sarchie's life in this film?
It's the whole movie. The second major motive for me in making this movie is I want to tell stories about the larger mysteries of life. We live in much more than just a material world that we can see and measure. The real Ralph Sarchie is a salty-tongued cop and he talks the same way in the movie.
Yet there is the specific language of these ritual prayers in the movie, too. The language of prayer that Mendoza uses is significant as well.
Much of the movie is about the sacredness of language and the power of words. Christians believe that "in the beginning was the word" and that God spoke the world into existence. So there's something about the power of language in this movie that plays in a significant way.
And it's no accident in the film's climactic scene that the demon speaks Spanish—in order to attack (exorcist priest) Mendoza personally. So the language of the film—all of it, from expletives to the rite of exorcism—is definitely significant.