Thursday, July 3, 2014
Deliver Us From Evil 
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (S. Abrams) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review
Given that I'm a Catholic priest working in a parish where every other parishioner seems to be part of the Chicago Police Department or some other law enforcement agency and that I've been responsible for working with the young people of the parish since I've come here, I knew that Deliver Us From Evil  (directed and screenplay by Scott Derickson along with Paul Harris Boardman, inspired by the the memoir Beware The Night by Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool) about a NYPD officer (Sarchie) who finds himself investigating the demonic even as he did his police work would be a film that I simply needed to see and review here.
Unfortunately, I have to say that this film is a TERRIBLE adaptation, PERHAPS THE WORST that I've ever seen, of the book that it's supposedly inspired by.
Beware The Night (2001) is indeed a engaging / readable book by Ralph Sarchie, an actual former NYPD police officer, who really did come to be involved in what he calls "The Work" (cases involving possible demonic possession) in collaboration with fairly renowned Catholic lay "demonologists" Ed and Lorraine Warren (based in nearby Connecticut and of The Conjuring  fame) and under the supervision of Bishop Robert F. McKenna, O.P. who also writes the forward to Sarchie's book.
EXCEPT FOR KEEPING SARCHIE'S NAME AND HIS NYPD AFFILIATION, there are VIRTUALLY NO CONNECTIONS AT ALL IN THE FILM to officer Sarchie's actual character or to his actual experience. Consider:
(1) Ralph Sarchie portrays himself in his book as a rather conservative/traditionalist Catholic. In contrast, in the film Sarchie (played by Eric Bana) is portrayed as a "twice a year Catholic" (Christmas and Easter) and as having a "gift" (his partner calls it a "radar") for detecting cases that come-up that could have a "paranormal" bent. In his actual book the actual Sarchie _chafes_ at the term "paranormal" maintaining that ALL THINGS "PARANORMAL" ARE "BASICALLY EVIL."
(2) In Sarchie's book, he describes his mentor BISHOP McKenna, O.P. as again clearly on the Conservative/Traditionalist side of the Church, describing him as one who both prefers AND CELEBRATES REGULARLY the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. In contrast, in the film Officer Sarchie comes to be involved in a strange (para-normalish) case that he ONLY PROGRESSIVELY STARTS TO UNDERSTAND AS (PERHAPS) BEING DEMONIC IN ORIGIN through the involvement of a longish-haired, never in clerics, Hispanic "barrio priest" named Fr. Mendoza (played by Édgar Ramírez) who knows one of the families being tormented.
Now don't get me wrong, _my_ perspective on things is probably _far closer_ to that of the "feet on the ground" Fr. Mendoza who "knows the pulse/happenings of his neighborhood," than the venerable Bishop BUT THE OFFICER SARCHIE OF THE FILM IS A VERY DIFFERENT PERSON THAN THE SARCHIE OF THE HIS OWN BOOK. Further, ANYONE WHO ACTUALLY KNOWS THE PULSE OF THE "FEET ON THE GROUND" CATHOLIC COMMUNITY among REGULAR parishioners in our cities (and in the country-side) WOULD KNOW THAT THE ACTUAL SARCHIE'S CONSERVATISM/TRADITIONALISM _IS THE NORM_ in our nation's blue-collar neighborhoods (and in the countryside): Year after year, the most common name that our parish's teens pick for Confirmation is _Michael_ after the Archangel who figures so prominently in Officer Sarchie's book and spirituality.
(3) In the film, the case that "Sarchie" and his partner (played by Scott Johnsen) find themselves "investigating" IS ALMOST COMPLETELY AN INVENTION OF THE SCREENWRITERS. In the film, a squad of Marines in Iraq led by a certain Santino (played by Sean Harris) come across some weird chapel with a Persian / Latin inscription out there in the deserts of Iraq and return demonically possessed. Santino, who starts wall-painting business after returning home, alternatively paints this inscription on random walls throughout the Bronx (including one on a prominent wall inside the Bronx Zoo) and then (presumably when he snaps out of whatever demonic state that he was in) paints over it again (to hide it). Vulnerable people who see this inscription, which talks of some sort of a "doorway." come to be susceptible to demonic possession as well. (Others apparently start to hum the song by The Doors called "Break On Through To the Other Side.")
WELL ... IN THE BOOK: THERE'S NO MENTION OF THE IRAQ WAR (or even the VIETNAM WAR, where the reference to "The Doors" would have been more time-appropriate). THERE'S NO MENTION OF "THE DOORS" OR THE BRONX ZOO AT ALL (!! - even though BOTH play such overwhelmingly important roles in the film). And there's only a brief mention in Sarchie's book (Chapter 11) of a case involving a JEWISH BORN WALL-PAINTER FROM NEW JERSEY who Officer Sarchie eventually came to believe MAY HAVE BEEN CURSED BY HIS BRAZILIAN-BORN MOTHER-IN-LAW in some sort of a West African-Yoruba inspired Santeria/Voodoo-like Rite.
So while in the film a Hispanic-named Marine turned "wall painter" from the Bronx came home from Iraq (the Middle East) with some sort of demonic curse on him, in Sarchie's book it was a Jewish-born (sort of Middle-Eastern) wall-painter from New Jersey who was cursed by his Brazilian (Hispanic in the broadest sense) mother-in-law ;-).
But it's all the same, right? ;-)
(4) Finally, as the film's climax approaches, Fr. Mendoza suggests that Officer Sarchie bring the possessed ex-Marine now _very conflicted_ tagger/wall-painter Santino to THE EPISCOPAL CATHEDRAL OF SAINT JOHN THE DIVINE for the requisite Exorcism. Say what??
Oh to be a fly on the wall to hear the phone call between Fr. Mendoza and the good people at the Rectorate there at the Episcopal Cathedral:
"Hi, I'm Fr. Mendoza (you know of the religion and ethnicity that once launched that Armada against your ancestors' fair land, even as your pirates were sinking our ships with your Queen's blessing coming back with loot that we ourselves had stolen and melted down from the indigenous folks of the Americas). I'm from a small Hispanic parish in a part of the Bronx that none of your Lower Manhattan parishioners, day-or-night, would be caught dead in except perhaps when on a cocaine run or perhaps with a sizable armed escort. And it occurred to me that since some of you folks are also into archaic language (Shakespearean English if not our Latin) and Medieval dress, in the spirit of more contemporary Ecumenical cooperation or at least tolerance, to ask you if I could rent perhaps one of your meeting rooms, or perhaps a chapel, actually a niche in your Cathedral would do fine, TO PERFORM AN EXORCISM on a troubled colleague of a parish family of mine. Don't worry, we'll clean-up the mess after ourselves when we're done.
"Now why would I ask YOU good folks so far away and of a different culture / religious tradition that often laughs at ours? I'm not sure. I think it has something do with my own character being driven to do these things by a Hollywood script writer who may harbor a deep hatred of my own character's religion -- a hatred that my character could actually even partially understand/sympathize with but a hatred taken to such a degree that the scriptwriter driving my actions can't even conceive conducting said exorcism in my own religion's church. Or perhaps it's just that St. Patrick's Cathedral, you know down the street, is booked ... I just don't know" ;-)
THIS IS JUST A REALLY STUPID / POORLY CONCEIVED MOVIE.
I would recommend the book. It's well written and sounds authentically like the traditionalist-minded NYPD officer who wrote it. But the film ... it's just terrible.
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