“Deliver Us from Evil,” a supernatural thriller starring Eric Bana, Olivia Munn, and Édgar Ramírez, opens in theaters today. The film was inspired by the book of the same name, written by New York Police Detective Ralph Sarchie, about his actual experiences with demonic possession and exorcism.
In the film, Sarchie becomes convinced that something other than human evil is responsible for some of the horrific crimes he investigates—a view shared by his renegade priest friend, Joe Mendoza. Together, through the ancient rite of exorcism, they take on the demonic forces destroying the lives of their New York neighbors, which ultimately direct their rage against Sarchie’s family.
“Deliver Us from Evil” is rated R for “bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout, and language.” I interviewed Scott Derrickson, who both directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay, to learn more about the movie and why he decided to make it.
Anne: So, on a scale from one to 10, how scary is this film?
Scott: It depends on who you are, as a viewer. I think to the average moviegoer it’s probably an eight or a nine. It’s pretty scary.
Scott: Yeah, absolutely. I’m interested in grounded stories with real characters . . . where the storyteller is free to present the world as more than just the material world that we see and measure, where there are other realities that the characters have to reckon with. Those are the kinds of stories that I think I am best suited to tell. And hopefully if they’re done properly they leave an audience with a sense that there’s more to the world than maybe they normally think about.
Anne: What has audience reaction been so far—those who watched advance screenings?
Scott: Test audiences scored the movie higher than any of my previous films. So those screenings were great. So far the experience of watching people watch the movie has been fantastic. It’s a powerful film. It’s not just scary; it’s also funny in places. There are quite a few bursts of action in the movie and it’s also a police procedural. So it’s not a straight-up horror film. In fact, [audiences have] called it a supernatural thriller, not a horror film.
Anne: What does Ralph Sarchie think of the film?
Scott: He was involved all along. In fact, He was an adviser on the set to make sure the NYPD was properly represented. He loved it. He was very happy with it.
Anne: I remember when “The Exorcist” came out in theaters in 1973. There were claims of ominous events connected with the film, including deaths of people associated with it, a fire that ravaged the set, and Linda Blair [the star] having a mental breakdown. I don’t know if any of those stories are actually true, but I wondered if any mysterious things happened on the set of “Deliver Us From Evil,” or after the film was finished.
Scott: That’s all media myth-making. Linda Blair never had a nervous breakdown on the set of “The Exorcist.” In fact, she had a blast. Journalists like those stories. . . . This is my second movie that deals directly with the subject matter and I’ve never had anything happen on the set.
Anne: Do you have any kids, and if so, how old are they? What do they think of your films?
Scott: I have two boys, they’re 11 and nine, and they won’t be seeing any of [my] films anytime soon. They know the kind of subject matter that it is, they know that I make scary movies, but they know that they’re too young to see them.
Anne: How old do you think a child should be before going to see this film?
Scott: It depends on the emotional and spiritual maturity of the child, where their mental strengths are. That’s something a parent needs to determine thoughtfully and carefully. There were films I showed my older son by the time he was eight or 10 years old that I still won’t show my younger son because my younger son has a more vivid imagination and is more sensitive to things and is not able to take in as much. I’m a very discerning parent when it comes to what my kids see. The good news is that there are always more movies to show your kids than you’ll ever be able to show them.
Anne: What has the response from churches and religious groups been?
Scott: So far the Christian groups that have seen the film seem to love it. It’s certainly a film that speaks to a sensibility that I think that audience really appreciates, as was the case with “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”
Anne: What church do you attend?
Scott: I would probably be Catholic at this point in my life, but I have kids; I wouldn’t know how to raise them Catholic. I read mostly Catholic writers—G. K. Chesterton is my favorite writer, Flannery O’Connor is my favorite fiction writer. But I’m presently a member of a Presbyterian church.
Anne: What do you hope people will come away from this filming thinking about and talking about?
Scott: In this movie there are a number of different themes. First and foremost you can’t watch a film like this and not come away thinking and talking about immaterial realities and the spiritual realm—does it exist, does it not exist—what’s behind the phenomena, especially in exorcist movies.
Exorcisms are a fact. They happen. That’s not up for debate. What’s up for debate in a culture like ours is what’s behind them. And I think that, as with “Emily Rose,” people will have a lot of discussion after the movie. There’s a lot in the movie about personal demons, in a metaphoric sense, how the sins of one’s past can cripple you and have to be reckoned with. There are some interesting themes going on about vengeance, and how vengeance destroys the avenger.
I think if you can make a big Hollywood movie to entertain people and give them what they paid for, and it’s a fun ride, and then they still think about it and talk about it afterward—if I can do that, then I’ve certainly done my job.
Anne Morse is a writer for BreakPoint.