The director of Sinister and The Exorcism Of Emily Rose locks horns with dark forces again in his latest film, which stars Eric Bana and Edgar Ramirez and opens in the US this week through Screen Gems. Jeremy Kay comes out from behind the sofa.
The story about a tough Bronx detective who teams up with a priest to investigate possible demonic possession is inspired by Beware The Night, the memoirs that Sergeant Ralph Sarchie co-wrote with Lisa Collier Cool. Derrickson tells Jeremy Kay about hard-boiled cops, wild priests and heavy New York rain. Just don’t expect him to reveal anything about Doctor Strange.
How did you get involved on Deliver Us From Evil?
Jerry [Bruckheimer, producer] optioned Ralph Sarchie’s memoirs in 2003 and hired me to write the script for it. I spent a week with Ralph in the Bronx. We did some ride-alongs with him and saw some exorcism tapes and Ralph gave me a photocopy of a book, which I optioned and turned into The Exorcism Of Emily Rose. I went off to make that and they spent seven or eight years developing the script [to Deliver Us From Evil]. After I made Sinister, Sony asked me what I wanted to do next. I did a re-write of the script for Deliver Us From Evil and we moved ahead on that.
Based on Eric Bana’s performance, Sarchie must be an intense character
He worked in the Bronx from the late 80s until he retired in 2005. Back then the Bronx was an incredibly dangerous place and he served in the notorious 46th precinct, so he was a hardcore cop. He made over 300 arrests and was shot at. Since he he retired he has assisted on exorcisms. I saw tapes that were very harrowing. I saw one with a guy whose forehead splits open. The movie is inspired by his memoirs, which centred on 10 cases and we used some artistic license in the movie [in the telling of our story.] But we got down perfectly the character of Ralph – it’s him. And he was our police advisor on set.
Bana can blow hot or cold but he nails it here
He’s an actor for whom there are certain characters he is great at playing. He’s amazing at the larger-than-life characters like Chopper, Nero in Star Trek and Hoot in Black Hawk Down. So I went after him because the real-life Ralph Sarchie is larger-than-life.
Edgar Ramirez is a great counter-weight and plays a priest with a colourful background
The character of Father Mendoza is an amalgam of two characters who were Ralph’s mentors. He was the only actor I went after. At first he passed respectfully, because he thought the character wasn’t rich enough, so he and I got together and after a few afternoons we came up with the back-story of Mendoza. Edgar is from Venezuela and had heard of a Venezuelan Jesuit priest who was like Mendoza and had done drugs and drunk a lot.
You shot in the Bronx in June 2013. The ever-present rain is reminiscent of the vibe in Seven
There were quite a few scenes that were slated for rain but not every scene and it rained on those days because it was one of the wettest Junes in New York history. We shot it all in the Bronx. There’s no place in the world like it. I find it beautiful. The Bronx has a gritty angularity to it and the interior spaces with their huge basements are distinctive.
How do you explain your fascination with supernature and dark forces?
It’s a desire to stay in touch with the mystery of the world and give the audience an experience. We’re living in a time when all the voices – of consumerism, advertising, even religion and science – tell us the world is smaller than we think it is. I like the way the story breaks this open and makes us feel the world is more mysterious than we think.
I was very afraid as a kid. I have spent a lot of my life overcoming fear, so it’s an emotion I understand. The reason why there are these voices telling us the world is smaller than we think is because it makes us feel safe. Once you crack that open you realise there’s more we don’t know than we know and the world becomes more magical. Movies are a great medium to explore this.
Which brings us uncannily to the subject of Doctor Strange…
I cannot say anything about Doctor Strange.
Will it be your next film?
Yes I have gone on record saying that it will be my next film but I cannot say anything else about it.
Does Sarchie ‘get’ god at the end?
I would say no and I think Eric would answer the same way. We were very careful with the choices we made in the movie. He never makes a confession. He believes in Mendoza and [believes] that he has come up against a foe that he doesn’t know how to deal with. The final baptism scene isn’t intended to be a confession. He renounces evil and that’s something he has been in the process of doing throughout the movie. It’s not my intention to convey that he has found god – he found peace.
And the real Sarchie?
He is more peaceful now than when I met him in 2003. That job in that violent crime district [the Bronx] had taken its toll on him. He still has a temper and a dark side to him but there’s definitely more peace now.
You’ve done exorcism before in your movies and it’s a familiar cinematic experience. How did you keep it fresh?
I know the genre so well, so I know what’s been done. Having the six stages [that Mendoza says are integral to the ritual] gave me a framework, but in the end it was Sean Harris [the British actor from The Red Riding trilogy and The Borgias who plays the subject of the exorcism, Santino]. There were three thoroughbred actors in there [Bana and Ramirez too], but I knew that scene was going to live or die by Sean. I’d seen him play a junkie in the Michael Caine film Harry Brown and there was a primal danger to him. It was like a bell that went off in my head. I went back to Jerry and the studio and they trusted me. He was the only actor I want to for the role.
On the last night of shooting the exorcism scene he went into a weird trance state and he wasn’t himself between takes. He was speaking in tongues when they were taking the prosthetics off him. It was scary for me. We got a PA to take him home and the next morning Sean didn’t remember the night at all. He felt like he had a drug hangover. He went down the rabbit hole more than I have ever scene.
Speaking of rabbit holes, we should make a quick detour. Is it true Jennifer Carpenter pulled such a scary face in The Exorcism Of Emily Rose they only allowed it on the DVD extras?
Yes she made a face that the MPAA decided was too scary for the theatrical version. There were no effects on that – just Jennifer making a face.
Does it help to believe in god for the power of Deliver Us From Evil to hit home?
What’s worth noting is to recognise [exorcism] is not a cultural phenomenon; it’s an anthropological phenomenon. It exists in all cultures and they all have this very similar experience of people being possessed by an entity and it’s only this shock ritual that can release them. The fact that it has gone on for centuries doesn’t mean it’s solely a Christian phenomenon. It’s happened in Islam too, for example. What ultimately makes it scary is it’s a reality. At the very least you have to believe there’s a profound mystical state going on. I certainly have no interest or desire to prove my own point of view about these things. I am much more interested to get people to expand their minds.