Xenophobia, religious fervour and mob mentality. Deliver Us From Evil, a taut thriller from Nightwatch director Ole Bornedal, is certainly thematically relevant in many ways to the world of today. The story of a young family thrown into a violent cauldron of bitterness and retribution, the film is pitched as ‘an unforgettable journey into the darkness of the human psyche’.
Using the interesting (if slightly Twilight Zone-y) device of a narrator to bookend the story, Deliver Us From Evil begins with small-town-boy-made-good Johannes (Lasse Rimmer) moving his young family back to the hometown of his youth. Having purchased one of the more ostentatious houses in the area, Johannes and his wife Pernille (played, in her first major film role, by Aqua’s Lene Nystrom) set about doing the place up with the help of Bosnian immigrant Alain (Bojan Navojec). Already facing an undercurrent of resentment from elements of the community for his ‘perfect’ life and successes, things take a decidedly violent turn when Johannes’ estranged, deadbeat brother Lars (Jens Andersen) drunkenly runs over a local bible studies teacher with his truck on the day of the local festival. In his panic, Lars frames Alain for the crime, bringing the prejudices of the drunken townsfolk to the surface. When Johannes protests Alain’s innocence and gives him shelter, tensions boil over and his family become legitimate targets in the eyes of the people, leading to a siege on the house.
Comparisons to Straw Dogs are inevitable and its influence on Deliver Us From Evil is there to be seen. Bornedal does a great job of building up to the climactic confrontation. For the first hour, the film is something of a slow-burner. Time is given to exploring the character and background of key townspeople and it’s time well spent. From the de facto mayor, Ingvar (Mogens Pedersen) husband of Lars’ victim Anna and father of a soldier killed in action in Bosnia, to Lars himself: a waster who resolves to change his life for his unborn child in the very moments before Anna’s accidental death, the mentality and thought process is clear with each character. Andersen’s performance is especially noteworthy: charming and deplorable, calculating and psychotic all in equal measure.
While a late scene in a forest and a beating doled out to Alain are harrowing, the pay-off for such a brilliant build-up is a little disappointing. The underlying threat, which is evident in the early stages, actually seems to provide more tension than the ‘real’ threat from the attackers on Johannes’ front lawn. People get injured during the stand-off. People even get killed. For some reason though, the mob seems less sinister actively baying for blood than they do when their hostility is merely in their words and mannerisms.
There are some hints at relationship issues between Johannes and Pernille as he spurns her advances on more than one occasion. While this adds an extra dimension as they argue over their predicament, you feel it could have been developed further to change the perspective on their actions in the situation and inject some more intensity.
These gripes aside, Deliver Us From Evil is a largely competent thriller. Some great cinematography and lighting work lend a washed out look to proceedings and coupled with the score compliments the overall tone beautifully. There’s also a twist/reveal near the end which many won’t see coming and adds ‘redemption’ to the thematic roster of the film. It stands up as social commentary too: at one stage Johannes lambasts Ingvar for beating Alain after his arrest, stating “There are certain rules”. Ingvar’s reply is one that rings true in many political circles: “Not for terrorists.”
Words > Dan Benfield