Set Visit: Scott Derrickson's Deliver Us From Evil (Part One)

The Bronx is no stranger to blood. Every type of crime has played out in the New York borough - shootings, stabbings, the works. Take it from someone who has lived his entire life a little more than a few miles away. But director Scott Derrickson is bringing a different kind of horror to the urban jungle with DELIVER US FROM EVIL, which documents the purportedly true tales of terror of one Ralph Sarchie, former NYPD detective whose book "Beware the Night" serves as the inspiration for the film. We’ve seen The City That Never Sleeps play home to malevolent paranormal activities before - ROSEMARY’S BABY, WOLFEN, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE are only a few of the titles that spring to mind - but DELIVER US FROM EVIL strives to marry the city’s hard-edged grit with a genuine presence of evil in a way we’ve never seen before.

And that authenticity is built from the ground up, as Derrickson, Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Sony Screen Gems have made it a priority to film almost entirely on location, in the busy Bronx streets Sarchie once patrolled. The production company has shot mostly nights in tenement buildings and on cracked sidewalks, squeezing themselves into basements and other hard to reach places for what Derrickson calls “free production design.” Indeed, you can fake a cramped one-bedroom apartment on a set or stage the discovery of a mutilated corpse within the confines of a soundstage, but part of the joy of this particular shoot is that the city itself breathes life into every frame; there’s no place like New York, and the atmosphere it lends is invaluable. (As anyone who has seen Toronto attempt to double as NYC can attest.)

As a huge fan of Derrickson’s previous film, SINISTER (which made me jump out of my seat more times than I care to admit), I was very happy to be invited to DELIVER US FROM EVIL shoot, if only for one night. This particular night is a rainy, humid number - just one in a summer filled with them. (The director admits they’ve lost a lot of time waiting for the rain to pass, but on this evening it’s coming in handy.) The scene I’m privy to involves the hunt for a demonic criminal and the grisly uncovering of a rather brutally decomposed corpse. The other journalists on set and myself only witness the former occurrence, a sopping wet run down the block as a cop pursues his prey, but we’re able to take a gander at a location the company has been using to stage the body’s reveal. Perhaps even more importantly, we spend a good amount of time talking with cast and crew, as well as Ralph Sarchie himself, the man whose nightmarish encounters have inspired this project.

But first a quick word or two about the plot: Eric Bana plays Sarchie, family man and veteran detective who (of course) thinks he has seen it all; in this town, most cops probably have. But things take a drastic turn when he and his partner (played by comedian Joel McHale in a mostly straight-forward turn) encounter a group of former Marines who return from overseas with more than just post-traumatic stress disorder in their systems. They bring something evil back with them and unleash it upon a town that can usually handle just about anything.

In addition to Bana and McHale, the film stars Olivia Munn as Bana’s wife, Jen; Edgar Ramirez as Mendoza, the priest who ultimately helps Sarchie on his quest to defeat this otherworldly presence (pictured below but not on set for this occasion); Sean Harris as Santino, the main villain; and Chris Coy as Jimmy, one of the possessed soldiers.

It’s Coy playing the pursued on this night; wearing fake feet to simulate being barefoot and sporting a large amount of tattoos (also inauthentic), Coy sprints down the block with McHale’s detective giving chase. The rain isn’t giving them much trouble at the moment, it’s a steady but bearable spritz, but multiple takes are needed all the same. These guys are in good shape, so they can handle it. In between takes they make some time to talk to us “nerds” (McHale’s word, fittingly), but we’ll get to quotes from everybody in tomorrow’s piece.

But let’s talk about the basement set - not a set at all but a real cellar apartment that has been dressed to look like a rather nasty crime scene. In the sequence, a sergeant named Griggs - one of the platoon of the damned - has evidently drank paint thinner, died, and put inside a cabinet. He’s discovered by Bana and McHale’s characters, and promptly begins emitting flies from his eyes and stomach. The flies will naturally come courtesy of visual effects, but everything else about the ghoulish corpse has been done practically.

But the faux dead guy - in this case portrayed by a stand-in dummy - isn’t necessarily the highlight of our descent into this hellish hovel. There are totems and objects of foreboding in seemingly every corner, sitting atop every shelf. Jars containing indistinct objects - surely none of them kosher - can be glimpsed here and there, bottles of homemade wine are strewn about. Even in a city where the smallest apartment is considered primo real estate is this an undesirable place to settle down - and the rotting human remains seem to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Stay tuned for the second part of my visit to the set of DELIVER US FROM EVIL; quotes from Eric Bana, Scott Derrickson and Joel McHale await. Plus, a closer look at the man whose strange life made this endeavor possible: Ralph Sarchie.

Extra Tidbit: DELIVER US FROM EVIL opens on July 2nd.



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