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updated: 7/2/2014 2:54 PM

'Evil' delivers strong cast, scary moments

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  • Butler (Joel McHale), left, and Sarchie (Eric Bana) confront something strange at the zoo.

      Butler (Joel McHale), left, and Sarchie (Eric Bana) confront something strange at the zoo.

  • Video: DELIVER US trailer

 
 

Two casting choices stand out in the generically titled "Deliver Us From Evil," Scott Derrickson's atmospherically frightening addition to the exorcism horror film canon.

British actor Sean Harris plays former U.S. soldier Mick Santino, who becomes possessed by an ancient demon lurking underground in Iraq during his 2010 deployment.

Harris pumps up a fairly thankless role into a raging conflict between raw evil and remaining humanity. His final confrontation with New York cop Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) -- a heartbreaking metamorphoses -- marks a marvelous movie moment.

Then there's "Community" star Joel McHale as Butler, Sarchie's knife-happy hot-dogging partner, another rote part given unexpected dimension, depth and humor.

They both complement "Deliver Us From Evil," Derrickson's follow-up to his "Sinister" and "The Exorcism of Emily Rose."

Instead of creating a standard horror tale with a detective subplot, Derrickson uses Sarchie's nonfiction book "Beware the Night" as the inspiration for a detective mystery with a demonic subplot.

Three GIs, Santino among them, return to New York where Sarchie and Butler investigate the strange case of a disturbed mother who sees the hooded Santino at a local zoo, then tosses her child into the lion's den. Could this have something to do with the mysterious Latin writings found on the walls at the zoo and at other crime scenes?

Sarchie. a conflicted, guilt-riddled Catholic (is that redundant?), eventually teams with an undercover street priest, Joe Mendoza (a created character played by a rumpled Edgar Ramirez), whose experience with demons and exorcisms comes in mighty handy as things turn dark and gory in New York.

"Deliver Us From Evil" offers some scary scenes of mounting dread, but they're diminished by animals and bloody humans suddenly popping into view for cheap theatrics as Derrickson lingers too long on setting up the plot.

Bana imbues Sarchie with appropriate brooding ballast, but his wife (Olivia Munn) and daughter (Lulu Wilson) feel like added assets to give demonic forces something to threaten. You know, this time, it's personal.

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