- Lee Roy Kunz, Maria Vera Ratti, Alexander Siddig
- Cru Ennis & Lee Roy Kunz
- Release date
- September 29, 2023
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” – Matthew 6:13
The Immaculate Conception is a term many have heard and most misunderstand. Were you to ask 100 people, 99 would likely believe it to be the conception of Christ. However, one of the four Marian dogmas, The Immaculate Conception, is actually that of Jesus’s mother, Mary. It is the belief that, in order to have been an appropriate vessel for Christ, Mary was conceived without the stain of Original Sin.
When, in a remote convent, a nun with a troubled past suddenly and inexplicably finds herself pregnant with twins, a fallen priest who is a specialist in distinguishing legitimate claims of the divine from fraudulent ones is enlisted to determine if her children have been sent from God or are a result of something more mundane and scandalous. Little did he know that he would find himself in a battle for the salvation of mankind.
Deliver Us is an independent film from Magnolia Pictures, which, thanks to its association with the Wagner/Cuban (as in Mark Cuban) Companies has significantly better resources than many independent film studios. The result is that films like Deliver Us boast superior production value and actors whose faces you recognize, even if you don’t necessarily know their names.
From its score to its judicious and skilled use of primarily practical effects, virtually every technical aspect of Deliver Us is indistinguishable from its “big budget” brothers and sisters. One exception would be that more care and thought was put into its cinematography than most of its big-name contemporaries. From sweeping drone shots to skewed close-ups, cinematographer Issac Bauman, who is best known for his work in music videos, seamlessly aids the narrative and, in conjunction with a very effective score, helps to shape much of the film’s vibe.
Deliver Us is further helped by some very empathetically present performances. Its leads do an excellent job of twisting the audience’s emotions as their characters experience numerous alarming events. However, the secondary characters are equally impressive, and all involved manage to elevate the material.
So, let’s talk about the material. Deliver Us is often frightening, occasionally deeply disturbing, repeatedly sacrilegious, and regularly inconsistent in narrative quality and attention to detail. There are some minor yet blatant oversights, like a bloody gutshot wound with no bullet hole in the victim’s shirt, and some character issues that are either oversites or intentional choices that make some secondary characters and even the protagonist appear unnecessarily offputting and in opposition to the rest of their character development.
For instance, the protagonist is Joshua, played by Lee Roy Kunz, a Catholic Priest who has succumbed to the temptations of the flesh and has fallen in love with and impregnated a woman. He intends to leave the priesthood because he recognizes that his actions have consequences that require a shift in his responsibilities. That’s all well and good.
However, his superior, a Cardinal or Bishop (I’m not Catholic, and if it was mentioned, I missed it), seems disappointed, not that he has fallen but that he is not choosing to abandon his child. The moment passes so casually between the two that it seems more like a misunderstanding of basic Church doctrine than it does an intentional narrative choice as if to say, “This sort of thing happens all of the time; we both know it, and neither of us is particularly bothered by it… you know, like we would be if we were highly placed priests or something.”
This apathy toward Priesthood tenets and tradition is regularly in evidence but always feels like an oversight. There are several occasions in which Joshua, in full liturgical vestment, publicly romantically kisses his girlfriend or holds her hand. This behavior would make sense if he had shown disdain for the Church or the Priesthood at any point in the film leading to these moments. Instead, his offhanded disregard and lack of basic respect for the office he still technically holds and the organization he represents and in which he is ostensibly still a believer does nothing to help build the much-needed empathetic bridge between him and religious audiences.
Almost certainly a passion project, as the star of the film, is also one of its writers, co-directors, and producers, there are a number of moments in which it seems the filmmakers were unwilling to give up a cherished scene or set piece, eating up time that could have been better-spent character building and letting characters earn a better understanding of what was happening around them, rather than having it delivered to them and them reacting to it. A not inconsiderable amount of the film feels rushed in this way.
For instance, Alexander Siddig, best known for his roles as Prince Doran Martell in Game of Thrones and Dr. Julian Bashir in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, gives his usual understated and criminally overlooked performance, but his character, the Cardinal in charge of the convent in which the action begins, so easily shifts loyalties and tone that it’s impossible to get a deep enough read on him to connect. Audiences will likely be unsure of whether they should trust him, a common enough horror trope, but it’s not earned. Instead, the script says that it’s time for the protagonists to trust him, and it is, in fact, time to trust him.
One technical issue that hurts the film, perhaps detrimentally so, is that there are a handful of sound mixing issues in which music or background noise drowns out a number of what seem likely to be key narrative details. It’s possible that some of the issues stated above were addressed, but we missed them, and it’s not due to our sound equipment. Even the AI responsible for the closed captioning of the press screening could not discern what was being said in those moments.
Another area of contention happens to be the film’s greatest strength. Deliver Us is frightening and disturbing, as a horror movie should be, and its beats are delivered with artistry and superb timing. Unfortunately, they tend to be the same horror beats, half irrelevant to the immediate action. At the same time, a third is the same unseen stranger over-the-shoulder jump scare, once again eating up time that could be better used in story development.
While it is a relatively well-made film by the independent film standards of the last 15 years, at its core, Deliver Us is a profoundly heretical and overtly sacrilegious film that wields blasphemy like a Faustian quill pen waiting for moviegoers to sign away their souls at $15 a pop. Religious fans of horror films may want to give the imperfect but far more doctrinally sound The Pope’s Exorcist a watch instead.
- The casual and repeated blasphemy in this film is indicative of the rot that has infected our churches.
- The premise notwithstanding, the repeated graphic nude and or sex scenes set amongst the visual elements of the Christian faith and used as metaphorical cudgels are the most egregious.
- Priests easily accept a Unitarian view of God.
James Carrick is a passionate film enthusiast with a degree in theater and philosophy. James approaches dramatic criticism from a philosophic foundation grounded in aesthetics and ethics, offering insight and analysis that reveals layers of cinematic narrative with a touch of irreverence and a dash of snark.