As we have repeatedly seen during this project we are calling Tensions in Exorcism Cinema, there appears to be a narrative made popular by the success of The Exorcist (1973). There is a reason we like to say that the 1973 movie is the one that started it all, even though there had been films before The Exorcist that depicted demonic possession and exorcism rituals. The success of the 1973 horror classic led to many other film producers, around the world and across time, to attempt to capitalize on its success by essentially redoing the film’s central narrative and conflict. A common narrative and conflict emerged across the movies that were released after The Exorcist. In our analysis of The Last Exorcism and The Last Exorcism Part II, we call this commonality the “traditional exorcism narrative.”
In this traditional exorcism narrative, a demonic or evil force possesses a girl or young woman, leading her to behave “badly,” as defined by society and culture. This afflicted person must then be saved, and thereby the danger to the rest of use removed, by some member of a religious order, usually a male priest, reverend, pastor or rabbi. This male religious figure can be read as representing a patriarchal order that seeks to maintain a status quo in which women are not a threat. By removing the possession and returning women to a state of innocence, the threat the woman represents is undone and traditional order is restored.
We have seen this pattern repeated over and over again, across time and cultures. Few films reject or subvert this narrative. As we have discussed, The Last Exorcism Part II does subvert this narrative. Additionally, while exceedingly rare, there are stories that focus on the possessed being male. Most of these films come to us by being associated with The Exorcist, and thus could be read as attempting to keep the franchise fresh. For example, The Exorcist III could be read at William Peter Blatty’s attempt to reignite the passion generated from the first movie. Furthermore, while Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist featured a possessed African boy, the movie was scrapped by the studio as the official prequel to The Exorcist, leading to Exorcist: The Beginning returning to the possessed woman as threat narrative. Additionally, the “true story” behind The Exorcist, Possessed, which featured a possessed young boy, only aired on Showtime. These three films, then show examples of trying to capitalize on The Exorcist by presenting twists on this traditional exorcism narrative, but none were financially or culturally successful.
Beyond this franchise, there have been occasions of men being possessed during the course of an exorcism cinema film, such as in The Devil Inside or The Rite. However, these possessions were secondary to the main female possessions that were at the center of the film or were the inciting incidents of each film’s narrative. Only in The Rite does the possession really feature the conflict between a possessed person and a man of faith how is struggling with his faith, this conflict being so central to the traditional exorcism narrative. In a sense, the presence of a possessed man in exorcism cinema is more novelty than commonality.
Which is what makes Deliver Us from Evil (2014) interesting; perhaps, the only thing that makes this film interesting.
This film comes to us from director Scott Derrikson, who directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which we have previously discussed as generating this second wave of exorcism cinema. However, where as Emily Rose is understated and almost cerebral, Deliver Us shows the Jerry Bruckheimer touch. According to the documentaries that came out with the Blu-ray’s release, Bruckheimer was the one who wanted to make the movie, calling it Serpico meets The Exorcist. Bruckheimer had read the books written by Ralph Sarchie, the real-life NYPD detective, who wrote about his encounters with the paranormal before and after he left the force. (The movie focuses on telling how Sarchie got into this paranormal business.) After having read the books, Bruckheimer said he wanted to “bring the real paranormal to the audience.”
Whether or not this movie brings the “real paranormal” is, of course, a point for discussion and debate. The filmmakers did acknowledge how they had to modify elements of the real-life stories to make them cinematic, such as creating the character of Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) from an amalgamation of different persons Sachie has worked with over the years. What is interesting is that in making the true story more cinematic, the filmmakers appear to have fallen back on the traditional exorcism narrative. Even if the film does feature a possessed man at the center of the narrative and conflict, the protagonists are nonetheless constructed as men who have questioned or are questioning their faith and belief in God. The lapsed or lapsing Catholic is again positioned at the center of this film as the savior of the possessed and the world.
Also interesting is how this portrayal of possession relates to the portrayal in The Exorcist III, which Chris and I reflected upon as we watched the film for what male possessions suggests about power. This observation, and more, are included below as I present our thoughts from watching Deliver Us from Evil. Since this is a relatively new movie, I will caution that there be spoilers ahead.
Yay, it’s a Bruckheimer! Said no one ever.
Starting in a desert — how very The Exorcist of you. Also Iraq — pretty sure that was the same country as The Exorcist, only then it was pre-war, pre-Saddam, pre-US-hating-the-Middle-East Iraq. Here we are starting with solders during Iraqi Invasion. The film says it is 2010, so we could read the film as trying to tie into post-9/11 fears about the Other that is Islam. Or, could the movie be saying that war is the evil that leads to demonic possession?
Spiders. Lots of spiders. Snakes. Bats. Definitely evil omen animals. The soldiers are going into a cave, a tomb, underground. We see the tomb through a camera mounted on one of the soldiers, so even getting a found footage feel here. Electrical glitches in the light. Then someone screams — bad stuff!
Cut to a dirty, rainy city in the dark, finding a dead infant body, and we meet our hero Sachie (Eric Bana). Camera is shaking as he walks away, distraught from the dead body. His subjectivity or something more ominous?
Sachie has a “radar” to find bad cases — so supernatural link established for our main character, giving him some sort of power in this world. Sachie and his partner, Butler (Joel McHale — I kid you note), respond to a call about a domestic violence dispute — a Marine, perhaps “still fighting the war” as Sachie put it. The Marine’s nails are funky — diseased and bloody — like he’s been clawing at things.
After this, we cut to a different soldier, who is apparently going stir crazy, but knew the other solider? Confused about all of that. But the man does go jogging, something Father Karras liked to do in The Exorcist.
And now the Bronx Zoo. This movie likes to jump around. We see an owl, hyenas, wolves — again, rather ominous animals.
Apparently a lady tossed her kid in the lion’s pen, and all the lights in the zoo went out. Demons! The monkeys are agitated. Because crazy lady is with them, digging at dirt and rocks, rather animalistic, just speaking nonsense then quoting a Psalm, dirty face. Scarred face.
Sachie finds a man in zoo who was painting — his face is painted, black around his mouth and eyes — and I think it is the solider from the beginning of the film. The crazy woman appears afraid of him.
And another new person! Must be the wife/girlfriend of Sachie, Jen (Olivia Munn).
The solider who was jogging is instead a Jesuit priest, Father Mendoza (Jesuit, just like in The Exorcist). He takes charge of the crazy woman. He’s a specialist, and asks how the woman was behaving, if she was very strong — clearly he is thinking possession. Crazy woman makes snake noises.
Police department gets a call about a basement, the family hearing weird noises, things moving down there. All after it was painted — most likely from the same guy painting in the zoo. So of course Sachie, acting on his radar, takes it. He sees a pattern!
To me, it seems like we are dealing with a [REC]2 situation of infectious possession. The story appears to be about multiple people becoming possessed.
Sachie and Butler go to the house with the basement. The house is owned by refugees from a war, saying the whole house is possessed. Electrical problems, holy candles will not burn. Oh and a pissy cat — Sachie does not like cats. But that hatred/fear never pays off. Just another “these animals are evil” symbolism.
Snake in the basement. But not really. What is really there is a dead body of a man – – eye moved, stomach moved, and then the body burst open with flies. Body looked like it had been strangled or suffocated. And the painter was the last to see this man alive.
So many cockroaches…In the dead man’s apartment, all kinds of weird drawings of figures on the wall. And the crazy lady was the dead man’s wife. The apartment is desiccated, like it has been abandoned for years. Sachie hears children laughing as they walk through it. Pendant of Jesus with cloven hooves around the dog’s neck. A cat strung up and disemboweled on cross as Jesus. Lots of connections being made between animals and evil in the movie.
Sachie does not go to church with family — so here we have a man without faith! He was an altar boy who says he outgrew it. He’s also apparently an absent husband and father — even when he is there, he isn’t there.
Ah, the evil has followed him home, it seems, as the little fish attack and kill the big fish.
Father Mendoza says there are two type of evils: secondary, which men do to men, and primary, which comes from evil spirits. Good to know.
So again we have a possessed woman as the concern of the priest, at least here in the beginning. However, she is just a stepping stone. The painter guy, Santino (Sean Harris), the dead guy from the basement, and the wife beater all served together in military in Iraq. Griggs, from the basement, committed suicide by swallowing paint thinner.
Santino was called in to paint over graffiti on lion’s den at the zoo, but it looks like religious writing. As Sachie and Butler watch the surveillance video, Sachie hears a clicking in the static and children laughing. As he peers closer at screen, he sees a color image of a bloody man in extreme close-up, and only he sees or hears these things.
It seems that Sachie has snapped, too many dead or abused children around him.
Ah, Santino and Griggs painted the home office of the wife beater. This possession spreads via paint! The wife beater would scratch at windows, floors. He was a combat videographer — the one who took the video we saw at the beginning of the film.
Sachie finds an hieroglyphic of an owl behind paint in wife beater’s office. And Sachie’s daughter has a new owl toy that appears to be possessed. See, owls are evil. Daughter hears loud scratches in her room as nightlight flickers.
Sachie uncovers the same type of graffiti in the office that was at the zoo — looks like cuneiform, ancient writing. Lights dim, he hears the children laughing. The wife beater reappears, growing, attacks him like an animal — moves like an animal, even leaps out the window. And apparently Santino could talk to lions. Are we dealing with the idea of a link between animals and demons? Are animals unclean spirits?
Sachie finds the footage of the soldiers going into the tomb. A lot of bats swirl around Santino, who goes further into the tomb despite people asking him not to. He sees this writing on the tomb wall — same as scrawled in lion’s pit, den, and in the evil basement.
Another link to The Exorcist: sexy priest teaming with cop! Sachie and Mendoza are peaking to crazy lady Jane in asylum, with her behind bars and acting like an animal, like seeing an animal at the zoo. She starts speaking in Latin. Her face is clearly distorted, like a possessed woman. Sachie shows him the inscription and she bites him, won’t let go until Mendoza completes a prayer. She bit him exactly where the wife beater cut him at the beginning of the film.
Something about playing the song “People are Strange” by the Doors — something about doors, perhaps the idea of people being doors to demons. Ah, it is a Persian and Latin inscription. Latin talks about providing a portal, gateway, a door. An invitation to allow an evil entity into the world. We hear the Doors song on the jukebox at the bar as they discuss this.
Priest discusses how he was a drug addict, and how he had the choice to live or die, so he found God. Sachie outgrew God because he saved his mother, not God. So definitely a lot of lapsed or problematic relationships with God in our two protagonists. However, Mendoza now believes in evil presences, demons, as he apparently dealt with one in a young girl before. He plays the audiotape for Sachie to hear the possession — and again, sound of young children laughing.
Mendoza smokes and drinks because it helps him get through. So he’s not exactly a perfect priest.
Sachie has to be the savior for his wife, his daughter — right now, he is failing at doing so. His wife is losing faith in him — and perhaps he is losing faith in himself.
Sachie sees the bloody figure of a man again — this time in his daughter’s bedroom. Who the heck is that?
And crazy Jane apparently killed her orderly, walks out with the keys in her mouth like an animal. Not only is she no longer a woman, she is also no longer a human — she is an animal. This possession as completely reduced her.
Mendoza says people are getting possessed by seeing the message. That Santino is creating doorways and recruiting people. Again, a bit like an infection. He also believes that Sachie’s radar is a spiritual gift, that makes him a target. Indeed, Sachie’s gift is kinda putting his family in danger — especially his daughter. We are then fearful because it is a child in danger, but perhaps doubly so because it is a girl.
Mendoza is definitely not a perfect priest. He had sex with a woman, the mother of the possessed girl, which lead to her becoming pregnant, and he suggested an abortion. He goes on to say how a saint is not a moral exemplar but a life-giver. All of this with the idea of confession as important, as the need to unburden oneself of hidden pain or else it will overwhelm you. Which seems to indicate that Sachie is not an innocent figure, which contrasts with his daughter and what we assume about crazy Jane. The idea that men are allowed to be flawed and complex.
Sachie hears the Doors song again, like it is on a record. They are at Santino’s residence. Lots of flickering lights. In the basement of the building, Santino is calling out for help, desperate, before howling in anger/pain. We hear “Pop Goes the Weasel” playing on the piano, and the wife beater jumps out of it — again, animal symbolism, which I think then also links it to The Exorcist prequels, especially via the hyenas.
The wife beater reacts to the crucifix on his head as Mendoza intones, sings in Latin over him to subdue him. Meanwhile Santino is killing Butler.
Okay, confession time — getting to hear Sachie’s secret. Some type of old case about a child murderer. He compares murdered girl to his own daughter. Sachie hulked out on the murderer. Ah, so that is the guy he keeps seeing images of. So here we have a man being haunted by his demons, and because of that, he is having a hard time dealing with the people who are actually possessed by demons.
So of course the daughter has a Jack-in-the-box that does the “Pop Goes the Weasel” music — and it starts playing on its own — and the stuffed owl jumps onto the ground and rolls towards her — door closes. Jack-in-the-box has black all over its face. Santino is in the house, and apparently gets her.
Driving along home and crazy Jane lands on Sachie’s car from a very high distance — she bounces off, bloody, body badly broken, definitely dead. So we get the image of a woman’s body completely destroyed. Santino calls, said he made Jane jump, and Sachie realizes Santino is in his house. Santino has carvings all over his body of the message, trying to make Sachie read it to become possessed. But Sachie just wants to find his family.
At the precinct, some type of weird blue foam coming out of Santino’s mouth. Time to interrogate Santino to find the family — Mendoza is there. One cop says “this guy’s not human.” Priest says they need to do a full ritual exorcism. One of the other cops goes into the room behind the two-way mirror, reacts to the idea of an exorcism as “get the fuck out of here.”
According to Mendoza, there are six stages to exorcism, and Sachie must help with all of them. (I could not make out what they are from the film, but here is a discussion on that idea.) After being splashed with holy water, Santino emits a high pitch scream, constant, and vibrating. He is bouncing in the chair to which he’s strapped, and Sachie shows weakness, which Mendoza helps him through by saying it will pass, just the first stage. So the priest is explaining how the exorcism works as we go.
Mendoza asking for the demon’s name in various languages. Man bites out parts of his own leg. Why if they are reading the message on his body is no one becoming possessed? Especially the guy behind the two-way mirror, who we never see again as shit gets real. Confusing narrative logic…
There is almost something more disgusting about a man being the possessed one — like I know how much more damage he can do. To himself and to others. And indeed that is what this movie shows, as the possessed controls those around him — like in Exorcist III. Also, disgusting, as a huge gash opens across the Santino’s head — showing the damage he can do to himself. Stigmata moment, of the crown of thorns.
Santino taunting Mendoza by saying the woman he had sex with kept the baby, that the priest has a son. All the demon’s psychological manipulation.
The demon’s name is Jungler? And only Sachie can hear him speak his name. Also, just realized, the possessed man’s name is Santino — which is kinda like saint — perhaps why the demon chose him? Also kinda then links to this idea Mendoza had of saints being life-givers. Santino’s possession gave him the power to control the lives of others by getting them possessed as well. In a sense, Santino gave life to other demons by opening the doors into other people. In this way, a life-giver is a dangerous thing to be.
Happy music when the demon is expelled. And as they find the family alive.
The end credits give the information about this being a true story, by saying that Sachie retired from the police force and continued to work with the priest. The film also gives writing credits to the real officer, since this movie is based on his writings.
Along with The Exorcist III, the films seems to indicate that when a man becomes possessed, he is dangerous because he is able to possess others, turn others to evil. With a woman, the possession is more contained within her, and then her actions are the threat to those around her. But even with [REC]2, the possession going viral is because of a man’s actions — if he was not looking for the biological nature and the vaccine, then it might have been contained to just the woman.
A man’s threat to the world is because he has power already, and is able to use that power to influence others to do evil. A woman’s threat is in the gaining of power through the possession and thus threatening the world because she upsets the status quo. A man having power is the status quo, but a man must use his power for good and not evil. A woman is just a threat when she gains power.
But that’s just our take — what’s yours?