In 2005 and 2006, a pair of movies were released, both broadly based on the same real-life story of Annaliese Michel, who died in 1976 at the age of 23, after an exorcism gone wrong. The latter film was Requiem, a German production that raised more questions than it answered, allowing for the possibility that its Annaliese-surrogate had truly been possessed but also that she was merely suffering from a mental disorder that was tragically misdiagnosed by overzealous religious types. The earlier film was The Exorcism of Emily Rose, an American film about how demonic possession is totally real and fuck science for saying otherwise. It was also the first theatrical feature in the highly disposable career of director Scott Derrickson, who has since failed his way up to getting named as the director of Marvel's upcoming Doctor Strange.

So Derrickson's newest film, Deliver Us from Evil, comes to us with an immaculately precise "inspired by" credit, and much like Emily Rose, that appears to have meant, in practice, "we are aware that reality exists, and it's entirely possible that some of it got into our movie by accident". It's not quite as much of a piece of pro-exorcism cheerleading, other than the genre-required bit where the protagonist starts out as an agnostic, until the power of Christ compels him, and this is at least something that is actually true to the life experience of Ralph Sarchie, a New York cop turned demonologist and namesake of the film's protagonist with whom he shares some biographical details and very little curriculum vitae (the biggie is that the film is entirely about an evil carried home from Iraq by soldiers in 2010, while Sarchie's career only barely overlapped with the Iraq War at all, and the book which primarily inspired the film was published before the invasion).

The film's Sgt. Sarchie, played by Eric Bana with a surprisingly good Bronx-adjacent accent, is introduced to us during one of his long nasty shifts at night in the worst of the worst Bronx neighborhoods, with his adrenaline junkie partner Butler (Joel McHale, surprisingly good at channeling his comic training into a twitchy, thuggish cop), who we know to be an adrenaline junkie because Deliver Us from Evil has the kind of script - by Derrickson and frequent collaborator Paul Harris Boardman - that feels overjoyed to include lines like "Well, you're the adrenaline junkie", even when it's not germane to the plot that anybody is an adrenaline junkie, least of all a side character who exists solely to provide an extra flashlight in some of the more aggressively underlit scenes.

Anyway, all snark aside, I actually did find the first 40-odd minutes of Deliver Us from Evil to be a largely interesting synthesis of two genres, mixing the plot structure of a police procedural into the incredibly convention-bound exorcism movie (incidentally, by the end of the film's 2010 prologue scene, set in an underground cave-temple in Iraq, it's becomes hauntingly clear that this shall be ripping off, not merely The Exorcist, but Exorcist: The Beginning also. And that is a sad thing to rip off). There's something oddly bracing about watching characters who genuinely don't know that they're in a horror movie, as opposed to characters who are merely marking time until the second-act shift into over horrorising, and it's legitimately disconcerting and interesting to watch Sarchie going about the business of being an NYPD officer in the midst of urban-rot production design and unrelentingly black night cinematographer that both keep jostling us in the ribs and promising "it's a horror film! check out all this spooky atmosphere".

That does, of course, mean that when the film makes the expected shift into Sarchie's attempt to fight Spiritual Evil instead of The Evil That Men Do with the help of a convenient exorcism expert, Father Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez, whose command of English has never been wobblier, but whose hunted, scarred expressions largely balance it out), it pitches everything that has made it good in any way to become Another Damn Exorcism Movie, complete with the exact same exorcism that filmmakers have been shooting from slightly different angles for over 40 years now. The last 30 minutes of the two hour film are, no contest, the absolute worst; the bit where it goes from marginally interesting and signficantly bad to 100% boring in every possible way.

Up till then, though, the movie's actually kind of entertaining, mostly because it's so gosh-darned campy, in an old-school way that not nearly enough modern horror films manage to be. The unrelentingly gloomy cinematography by Scott Kevan is where it starts, with the film almost playing a game with us to see just how long the movie can go without showing us more than the outline of a person's head (and, for good measure, it's some of the most digital-looking digital cinematography I've seen in a long time, so crisp and focused and sharp that it just about fries your eyeballs). Then there are the dipshit staging ideas, like a soundtrack that keeps amping up creepy fake audio to deafening levels, or shows a tragic flashback fading to blood red in a fashion that is infinitely more silly than creepy. The overdone makeup on the spooky man in a hoodie (Sean Harris) who seems to be the link between all of the creep inexplicable deaths Sarchie is investigating is certainly pretty goofy, but the undisputed winner of the film's most aggresively nonsensical High Camp villain is Jane (Olivia Horton), a crazy and/or possessed lady who scuttles on all fours and speaks like the First Runner-Up at a Gollum impersonator's convention. I can't do it in text, but the way she gargles the word "speeeecialisssssst" is, for real, the funniest thing I have seen in a movie theater all summer.

The film's delightfully stupid approach to the clichés of a demonic possession movie are flavored with just enough touches of actually good filmmaking - the Bronx Zoo at night is an inspired place to shoot a horror movie, turns out - that Deliver Us from Evil manages to actually kind of be watchable. Only, I think, for a dedicated follower of the exorcism subgenre, and such devotées have a lot of practice shoveling through some real shit, even more than most of us patient horror movie fans. And a lot of that watchability is entirely ironic in nature. But good red meat for bad movie lovers doesn't tend to show up in movie theaters all that often, and the gruff-faced, laughably intense, philosophically overburdened Deliver Us from Evil does a fine job of filling that void.

3/10