The bloody thriller “Deliver Us From Evil” demonstrates something all film critics learn on the job: When a horror movie insists in the opening frames that it’s “based on” or “inspired by” a true story, the movie that follows is more likely to be idiotic.
Sure enough, this one is “inspired by the real accounts of New York Police Sgt. Ralph Sarchie.” Sarchie (played by Eric Bana) is a hard-bitten night-shift detective — the kind who’s seen some things and done some stuff. His wise-cracking partner, Butler (comedian Joel McHale), says Sarchie has a “radar” for weird and dangerous cases. (Butler is so tough he has the seven deadly sins tattooed on his neck — though his function in the story is so obvious he should have “dead meat” tattooed to his forehead.)
Sarchie and Butler get embroiled in three seemingly unconnected cases: an ex-Marine (Chris Coy) beating his wife (Jenna Gavigan); a house painter (Scott Johnsen) whose body is found decomposing in an immigrant family’s basement; and the strange case of a woman (Olivia Horton) who throws her toddler into the moat outside the Bronx Zoo’s lion enclosure.
But as Sarchie investigates further, he finds a connection involving some creepy Latin inscription. He starts hearing strange noises and seeing flashes of brutal images. He also encounters Joe Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), a muy macho priest who’s an expert in “spiritual evil,” who tells the disbelieving Sarchie that the three cases are linked by the devil.
This is familiar territory for director Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”) and his co-writer Paul Harris Boardman — they collaborated on “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” another “based on a true story” horror movie. This time, adapting a book by the real Sarchie, the pair wallow in cop-movie clichés, such as Sarchie’s emotional distance from his wife (Olivia Munn) and daughter (Lulu Wilson) to the obligatory collage on the wall of the main suspect’s apartment.
The credibility of the “inspired by real accounts” claim and the movie’s general intelligence level hit rock bottom in the finale, when Sarchie and Mendoza perform an exorcism on the lead suspect (Sean Harris). Nothing, not even the power of Christ, should compel someone to sit through the self-important silliness of “Deliver Us From Evil.”
‘Deliver Us From Evil’
An NYPD sergeant and a priest team up when the devil strikes in The Bronx in this dim-bulb horror thriller.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Now open.
Rating • R for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout and language.
Running time • 118 minutes.