This week’s major home video releases include an independent film written by, directed by and starring Zach Braff. Also on tap is a horror-thriller featuring Eric Bana and Edgar Ramírez.
Deliver Us From Evil
2 stars (out of four)
Rated R for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout, and language
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
The surprise, 2013 hit “The Conjuring” reminded moviegoers that exorcism movies are still exciting when filmmakers take the time to invest in characters and build suspense. Unfortunately, most of the genre’s entries do little more than rehash tired horror clichés.
“Deliver Us From Evil” tries to set itself apart with an unusual protagonist: a real-life New York City Police sergeant turned demonologist. Ralph Sarchie, portrayed by Eric Bana in the movie, worked in law enforcement for more than a decade before turning to demon hunting full time, and the film is reportedly inspired by his experiences.
Although the movie sells itself as reality-based, one needn’t believe in the supernatural to watch. In fact, “Deliver Us From Evil” is best examined as a standard-order horror film because – aside from Sarchie – it’s as traditional as they get.
The story begins with Sarchie investigating several odd cases. In one instance, he responds to a domestic violence call, only to have the male perpetrator attack him. Later, he is dispatched to a zoo where a woman has tossed her infant into an animal enclosure. In yet another case, he and his partner (Joel McHale) discover a dead body.
Each incident is disturbing, but Sarchie is really baffled when he discovers that all the cases are connected. Then, a priest (Edgar Ramírez) shows up, attempting to convince Sarchie that he’s dealing with a supernatural presence.
“Deliver Us From Evil” has scary moments, but it does little to distinguish itself from the host of exorcism movies that preceded it. Its depictions of demonic possession are creepy, and director and co-writer Scott Derrickson creates a generally eerie vibe throughout the film. He also tries to make audience members jump regularly, using everything from music to quick film edits to create suspense. Sometimes he’s successful, and sometimes it feels as though he’s being manipulative.
The biggest flaw in “Deliver Us From Evil” is the project’s leisurely pace and under-developed key characters. Bana makes Sarchie a likable guy, and Ramírez is fine as the determined priest, but audiences don’t get to know either man well enough. Because of that, viewers aren’t likely to invest in the characters emotionally.
If this sort of material weren’t already such a staple of horror cinema, one might be able to forgive the flaws. In such a crowded arena, however, it feels like one more piece of supernatural noise.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of feature and an audio commentary by Derrickson.
Wish I Was Here
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
Zach Braff is best known as the lovably loony Dr. John “J.D.” Dorian on “Scrubs,” but independent film buffs know him as the writer, director and star of the 2008 dramedy “Garden State.” For “Wish I Was Here,” Braff again assumes multiple duties, directing from a screenplay he co-wrote with his brother, Adam.
Braff is also the star of the project, playing Aidan Bloom, a thirty-something husband and father who is yet to settle into a steady job. Although Aidan is obviously a good guy, he has grown comfortable making his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), shoulder the family’s financial burdens. While she works, Aidan drives their kids, Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon), back and forth to school. He also auditions for acting gigs that he rarely receives.
The couple is forced to face the inequity of their financial contributions when Aidan’s father (Mandy Patinkin) announces that he has cancer and is no longer able to pay for Grace and Tucker to attend a private Jewish school. Distraught about his father’s illness and unable to pay the tuition himself, Aidan decides to home school the kids, creating a new dynamic in the household.
Although much happens during “Wish I Was Here,” the movie isn’t about plotting. Rather, it’s a character and relationship study that asks viewers to consider their own lives. The screenplay is alternately funny, dramatic and poignant. It is also consistently thoughtful, which places it ahead of much of what’s produced for the screen today. Braff, no doubt because of his intimate connection to the material, guides the project with a steady directorial hand, and the movie is charming and accessible despite maintaining an independent feel.
Braff is also – as always – a likable screen presence. He reads Aidan as an everyman struggling to find his identity in an increasingly difficult world. In particular, Aidan is troubled by the fact that he can’t both support his family and “follow his dreams.”
Aidan’s difficulties are compounded by constant criticism from his ailing father, but he’s just as judgmental himself, and he regularly critiques the lifestyle of his slacker brother, Noah (Josh Gad). Gad, who often plays likable oafs, is perfect in the supporting role.
Hudson and Patinkin are also excellent: she as the frustrated-but-nevertheless-supportive wife and he as the gruff-yet-loving father.
For some, the free-form structure of “Wish I Was Here” will be a problem. The movie doesn’t travel from Point A to Point B like most features. In fact, it takes frequent detours for comic observations and character development. That’s only a problem for viewers who demand conventionality. For those willing to meander alongside the characters, Braff has delivered a treat.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Begin Again”: Mark Ruffalo plays a struggling music industry executive who discovers a promising, young talent (Keira Knightley) who is dealing with a crisis of her own. Written and directed by John Carney (“Once”).
“Life of Crime”: Comedy about thugs who kidnap a wealthy housewife (Jennifer Aniston) in an attempt to draw a ransom from her husband (Tim Robbins). Unfortunately for them, the husband is ecstatic about his wife’s departure. Isla Fisher, Will Forte and John Hawkes also star.
“The Prince”: A former assassin (Jason Patric) is lured back into the underworld when his daughter is kidnapped. John Cusack and Bruce Willis also star. Directed by Brian A. Miller.
The Complete Jacques Tati: The Criterion Collection delivers fresh, digital restorations of all six films by French director-actor-writer Jacques Tati. Included are: “Jour de Fête” (1949), “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday” (1953), “Mon Oncle” (1958), “Playtime” (1967), “Trafic” (1971) and “Parade” (1974). The boxed set is loaded with extras, including digital restorations of Tati’s short films and alternate versions of some features. All movies are presented in French with English subtitles.
“The Vanishing”: New 4K restoration of director George Sluizer’s 1988 foreign-language movie about a man (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) who obsessively searches for a girlfriend who goes missing. Presented in French and Dutch with English subtitles.
“Good People”: An in debt married couple (James Franco and Kate Hudson) think they’ve found the solution to their problems when they discover a stash of cash in the apartment of a recently deceased tenant. But they aren’t the only ones who want the money.
“Nightbreed” – The Director’s Cut: When writer-director Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” was originally released into theaters, it was chopped by the studio. This re-edited version has 40 minutes of added footage. The story centers on a young man who crosses into a world populated by monsters.
“WKRP in Cincinnati” – The Complete Series: Shout Factory delivers every episode of the late-1970s and early-’80s comedy about employees working at a Top 40 radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio. Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Howard Hesseman, Frank Bonner and Richard Sanders star.
“Beethoven’s Treasure Tail”: Direct-to-video continuation of the Beethoven movie franchise. When the St. Bernard Beethoven and his trainer Eddie (Jonathan Silverman) are stranded in a small town, the dog befriends a local boy and sets out on a treasure hunt.
“Squirm” – Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray debut of director Jeff Lieberman’s 1976 horror film about a Georgia community attacked by hundreds of thousands of man-eating worms.
“A Belle for Christmas”: Holiday drama about a dog that positively impacts a family recovering from loss. Dean Cain, Kristy Swanson, Jet Jurgensmeyer and Haylie Duff star.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at email@example.com.