Deliver Us from Evil (US - DVD R1)
Gabe remembers that real life is almost always more horrifying than fiction...
From the 1970s through the 1990s Catholic priest Oliver O'Grady sexual assaulted and abused possibly hundreds of children while working in churches throughout Northern California. During this time his victims came forward, and the Catholic Church took steps to conceal O'Grady's crimes. After serving seven years in prison and being deported to Ireland, Father O'Grady is ready to tell his story, as are his victims, religious scholars, physiologists, and lawyers. It seems the only silence is coming from the Church itself.
Sobering, that's a good word to describe Deliver Us from Evil. The film documents some very uncomfortable subjects, and will undoubtedly make anyone, of any religious or political background, question their beliefs in one way or another. It's a particularly rewarding brand of sobering, but sobering nonetheless.
Director Amy Berg wisely eases her audience into this dark and disturbing tale. She also wisely gives the villain his due, and it is Father O'Grady's participation and honesty that gives the film its grimly fascinating hook. He's charming and articulate when we're first introduced, even as he describes his criminal method he still remains eerily human. Berg's wisdom pays off when the really, really vile crimes surface about half way through the film. Had these particularly evil things come to surface immediately the film may've proved impossible to watch. The humanization of O'Grady is also important for deepening the film's impact. Monsters don't make people think, the bogeyman is too easy to hate, a severely flawed, and possibly insane human being (depending on one's personal correlation of guilt and insanity) is harder to dismiss.
Unfortunately, like most modern documentary features, exploring O'Grady's methods almost gets in the way of the more intriguing story: the Catholic Church's responsibility in the matter. This side of the doc plays like a twisted Mafia movie, or corrupt corporation piece (kind of a religiously slanted Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room take off). I'm not Catholic myself, so my opinions on the film's case evidence may be flawed in some eyes, but I find myself entirely unable to fathom the moral reasoning for covering up O'Grady's problems. They don't even turn their backs on him, they just pretend nothing is wrong and move him to another town. Despite O'Grady's obvious responsibility for his actions, his superiors hold just as much of responsibility in the film's eyes (and mine).
Deliver Us from Evil is at its core a scrutinisation of the Catholic Church. One could argue that the Church isn't given a proper chance to defend itself, and I'd agree that the clergy in the film is mostly demonized, but at the same time I'm not sure what they could say. Apparently they declined the option of defending themselves. The charges are biting, and that's something a lot of people won't want to hear. Towards the end of the film things start to get very specific, and frankly I found it horrifying. Unfortunately for the film, this indictment almost feels like an afterthought.
A television documentary can run longer, and cover more specific ground, which is why I often end up preferring them, especially when the subject matter has a particularly historical or analytical slant. I am honestly interested in the predatory paedophiles methods and reasoning, the same way I'm interested in other true crime documentations like those of serial killers or the mafia. It’s morbid curiosity meets know-your-enemy tactics. I believe if these people can be logically dissected we can improve our methods for catching and treating (or imprisoning) them before they have the chance to hurt anyone. The problem is that this is only half of an already brief documentary, and the deep dark Church secrets are a more 'traditionally' interesting subject, which is probably why Dan Brown books sell so many copies.
The story itself isn't as riveting as my personal favourite true crime documentary, which also focuses on paedophilia (I can't believe I actually have a favourite true crime/paedophilia documentary), Capturing the Friedmans. There is a narrative flow to Deliver Us from Evil, but it isn't as eventful as Capturing the Friedmans, which constantly enthrals to its last frame. Deliver Us from Evil has a sort of uncomfortably self-important tone, and though I obviously understand the reasoning behind this (the tale does need to be told), I personally prefer documentaries that let events unfold. I notice the film's construction, and I'd rather not. It's a very humble complaint, and not one that should turn any viewer away from watching this important and sobering film.
It's hard to gage the video quality on the majority of the film because of differing film qualities throughout. Video depositions and found footage are unmistakably and unsurprisingly ugly (which actually adds to their creepy intensity), but the filmed interviews and shots of O'Grady walking the streets of Ireland are pretty sharp. Director Berg talks about her love for the Dogma movement and the love is on display here. Warm browns are sometimes noisy, and lighter colours wash out a bit depending on lighting, but the overall look of the filmed for the film sequences is very nice.
Like the video, the audio isn't here to wow us. The dialogue, even during the crudely recorded depositions, is discernable, at least when the people speaking are trying to be heard. The musical score is effectively morose, and fills the surround channels at opportune times. The 5.1 track has a sometimes surprising LFE track when the score kicks in, which has a nice effect on the overall feel of such a sad film.
Once again, of all the genres that have thrived on the DVD format, documentaries are the most incredible. Often hours of deleted footage and updates can be added, sometimes enough to create an entire film on their own. Here we don't get much of an update, but we do get a decent amount of deleted scenes. The scenes are for the most part appropriately deleted from the final film. I really don't need to hear more about O'Grady's predatory behaviour, but the additional footage of theologians discussing the background of the case as it pertains to Catholicism is fascinating. Every deleted scene has an optional commentary from director Berg and editor-producer Matthew Cooke. Cooke has also included a more intellectual alternate ending here, which also features a commentary track.
Cooke and Berg actually end up offering commentary for everything on the disc, not the least of which is the film. The behind the scenes stuff is pretty interesting, especially Berg's coaxing of O'Grady, who at first wasn't interested, then wanted Berg to write a book, then agreed to speak but not be seen in the movie, and who eventually agreed to give full disclosure. The ordeal was taxing on both commentators who had to uncomfortably squeeze into the mind of a serial child rapist for about a year of production. The commentary is needlessly sparse in some section because the participants don't want to speak over certain scenes, which kind of spoils the premise of a commentary track all together. There is a faint whiff of pretension here, but I don't think an entirely unpretentious person would be capable of covering such brutal subject matter.
Next up is a series of featurettes called Bible vs. Church in which the film's participants point out contradictions between the Church's policy and Biblical scriptures. These weren't exactly shocking, but may be important for viewers more ignorant of the subject, and reveals what may have been a more interesting documentary. The featurettes total just over nine minutes. Trailers for other LionsGate releases finish the disc.
Deliver Us from Evil isn't exactly required viewing, and will have quite a depressing effect on some viewers, but I still strongly suggest a viewing. It's a stunning study of hypocrisy, conspiracy, and a very specific kind of monster. If people were aware and better able to understand such negative forces, perhaps something could be done to stop them. I'm no idealist, but I'd like to think this feature will make a small difference in at least a few lives.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 8th May 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Writer/Director and Editor/Producer Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Alternate ending, "Bible vs. Church", Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Amy Berg
Cast: Oliver O'Grady
Length: 101 minutes
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