Director Scott Derrickson has been scaring the hell out of people for several years now, and he looks to continue the trend with his latest project, Deliver Us from Evil. Recently we sat down with him to talk about the film, and believe us when we tell you the devil is truly in the details.
Dread Central: We only got to see, well, basically, nothing more than the trailer. So, can you start by telling us a little about it?
Scott Derrickson: Yeah, the movie is about a guy, about Ralph Sarchie, who’s based on a real guy, a cop in New York City who Eric plays and the movie is about… his slow but steady confrontations with these supernatural occurrences that get him drawn into these cases, and that starts to affect his personal life and his family life and his belief system and all that.
DC: We heard that there were some real life creepy things that happened on the set. We heard some stuff from Edgar who’s saying about some paper machine in the bathroom but he kept saying there were all kinds of things that happened.
SD: Yeah, you’d have to ask the actors because nothing like that happens to me. It was the same thing on Emily Rose where weird things do seem to happen, happen to the actors, that’s true.
DC: Do you think that’s because you don’t believe in them, or you do?
SD: I certainly believe in the metaphysical. Yeah, I’m not a strict materialist. I think that’s a ridiculous view of the world. I don’t think that makes any sense at all. So, yeah, I think there’s a lot more mystery to the world than what our theories can explain.
DC: Your horror movies are always based in the investigation and the search whether it’s a policeman or it’s the clergy in the Exorcism of Emily Rose and then there’s the courtroom aspect of it. Can you talk a little bit about what makes your sensibility that way as opposed to, say, a full-on horror movie like The Exorcist or The Shining where you don’t really see law enforcement or legal aspects involved?
SD: That’s an incisive question. I guess at the most base level, the juxtaposition of those things is what is inherently interesting to me in the genre. With Emily Rose no one had ever made a courtroom horror film before so I thought that was a worthy endeavor. In this case, Jerry Bruckheimer’s idea in auctioning the book was that he wanted to make ‘Serpico meets The Exorcist,’ which I thought was a great idea also. But those things were attractive to me and I took the approach that I did with them because I am somebody who continues to be very inquisitive about the metaphysical and about the things in this life that are significant even though they can’t be measured with our instruments of science. I’m a big science fan. I mostly read science fiction and for strange reasons know a lot of top scientists in the world, but I don’t think that there are enough stories out there that are taking seriously the idea that the world is much more mysterious than we think. I think that both science and religion are always propagating the idea that, “Hey we’ve kind of got it all figured out. And whatever we don’t have figured out, we have a theory that’s probably correct,” and I just don’t think that’s true. I think that the world is a far more mysterious place than we are told by those major forces. And I think that it’s really important to our human health to think that way, to live our lives as though it’s a magical world, because it is.
DC: Who are these top scientists that you know?
SD: I know Sean Carroll, who is the head of physics at CalTech. I know Lisa Randall, who’s probably the top string theorist in the world. I’m mentioned in one of her books, a conversation we had… Adam Frank, who does a lot for NPR, astrophysicist. Certainly, Adam and Sean are friends of mine. I don’t think the way they do so we debate here and there.
DC: Did you consult on them with this?
SD: Not on this but I have consulted with them on other movies and will consult with them on probably my next movie.
DC: Can you tell us a little about the casting, in particular Eric Bana in this role?
SD: Yeah, you know, the real Ralph Sarchie is an extremely fascinating guy. I mean, he really is awesome, which is why I wanted to make the movie. When you meet him, he is a foul-mouthed Italian volatile hardcore South Bronx undercover cop. For twelve years he worked in what the FBI called the most dangerous square mile in America. The four six precinct, where he worked, has him as an undercover cop with six guys underneath him; there were more violent arrests in that square mile than anywhere in the country. He was the guy, every night, going out there and doing that. So, he’s a hardcore guy… Then also, early on in his career, was a complete lapsed Catholic and skeptic and didn’t believe in god, didn’t believe in anything, and for him to get drawn into these paranormal cases and have it turn his whole life upside down to the point that he ends up being an assistant to an exorcist… It’s just a great story.
When you meet him, he’s larger than life. He’s just a larger than life character and Eric is really good at those kinds of characters, if you’ve ever seen Chopper, or even playing Hoot in Black Hawk Down. These characters have almost a mythic kind of quality to them and there’s something about Ralph that cries out for that. We were bagging on lots of names, but when Eric’s name came up, it just immediately locked for me, like I was just like, “That guy can do it. That guy can do it.” I had a feeling and then it was about convincing him to do it, but he was the only person I went after. He was the only person I met with for the movie.
DC: So, you didn’t want to meet with a tough Italian-American for the role?
SD: There wasn’t anybody that I could picture who would be able to bring all of that and a kind of depth of character. It’s something I do think I’m good at as a director. I tend to have instincts about what actors would be good at. Sean Harris, who you guys probably don’t even know, most people don’t know him, I saw him do Harry Brown, he plays a drug dealer in Harry Brown and based on one scene with Michael Caine in Harry Brown, I knew he had to play the villain in this movie. And when you see it, when you see the movie, his performance is one of the greatest performances I have ever seen, and very few actors could have ever pulled it off. Why did I know he could do it? I don’t know; that’s something I have a knack for.
DC: Do people sometimes think your movie Emily Rose is based on the story by Faulkner?
SD: No, I know that story, but no, it’s based on a German girl who lived in Bavaria in the 70’s who died during an exorcism. Interesting enough, by the way, I wrote this script in 2004 for Jerry, and when I went to meet with Ralph, Ralph was the person who gave me an out-of-print copy of the exorcism of Anneliese Michel, the nonfiction book written by an anthropologist about that possession case. So, I auctioned that book and I ended up going to make that first and then they had done lots of rewrites on the script and never got anywhere with it and then I came back on, rewrote it and made it.
DC: In the Vatican they have people specialized in that. Did you talk to them? Because they are not supposed to talk about it.
SD: I’ve talked to Catholic exorcists. I’ve talked to a number of those but never any of the exorcists from the Vatican. I really like and respect the Catholic Church’s attitude toward it. There are a lot of Protestant people who are into demonic deliverances and things like that who are showmen and hucksters and it’s all really very silly, but it is something that the Vhurch takes very seriously, is perhaps embarrassed by but certainly does not seek to exploit, and I have a lot of respect for that.
DC: Is Ralph going to come and do some press?
SD: Oh yeah.
DC: Because he sounds fascinating.
SD: He’s very fascinating.
DC: Does he still do that or is he retired?
SD: He’s a retired cop now, but he still does that.
DC: You mentioned earlier that you believe that it is important for mental health or our psychological health to be open to, not the superstitions, but to different things going on in the world. What did you mean by that?
SD: I just mean that when you reduce the world to… I mean, again, I love science. I think science is one of the greatest constructions that human beings have come up with and I think it has unearthed as much truth as anything. I’m also a religious person. I have a degree in religious philosophy. I was a student of philosophy as an undergrad. But you’re still working primarily with theories in both realms, and when the conviction of those theories becomes something that you say explains the way everything is in the world, the world becomes much smaller in your mind than it actually is. I think that mystery and mysticism keep us sane. I think that it keeps us alive, and there aren’t very many forces in the world that are helping us to continually expand our sense of the world being a magical place. Instead they’re telling us that the world is smaller than we think and it’s less interesting than we think and it’s getting more and more boring.
Now that we are connected to everything, we can see everything and we can debunk everything so fast and I just don’t buy the lie. I think that the world is still a profound mystery. I think that when you think that way, it does create a kind of mental health. You find your place in the mystery of the world and life becomes much, much more vital because of it. It’s one of the reasons why I’m attracted to the genres that I’m attracted to. It’s one of the things that movies can do. Movies can ignite a sense of the magic of the world and leave you feeling like the world is a more magical, mystical place than it feels like to you. The forces, the advertising companies, and the religious institutions and the scientific community, they’re just constantly impressing upon you, “Hey, the world is as small as this box that we’re showing you,” and I just, I don’t think it’s true.
DC: Are you watching “Cosmos?”
SD: I love “Cosmos.” Yeah, and look, you know, great science and great philosophy and great religion are mind-expanding. But you also get to the end of them and neither Neil deGrasse Tyson nor the Pope really wants to admit how much they don’t know, which is so much.
DC: Do you like to provoke the emotion of fear?
SD: I like to release the emotion of fear. I think that horror releases fear in people more than it creates it. I think that there is something good and healthy about doing that. When people come out of a good scary movie or a movie that is super tense and thrilling or shocking or scary, they don’t usually come out oppressed and thinking, ‘Who can I go kill?’ or ‘I’m going to go beat my wife.’ They usually come out laughing. There’s something that’s been lifted. Something’s been released. I think that’s one of the values of that particular counterpart in entertainment. It forces us to confront these fears emotionally and allows an avenue for release. Especially, when you’re talking about straight-up horror films like Sinister, that’s why that’s a film that’s perfect for people who are 18 to 24 years old because they have so much anxiety and the experience of a movie that really scares them is liberating and lightening for them.
DC: Does your shirt say deus?
SD: Yes, it says deus ex machina. I’m big on the deus ex machina. We all need a little deus ex machina. It literally means god in the machine. The term actually comes from ancient theater. There were a lot of classic plays that were written and all the characters would get backed up into a corner, and literally, the god machine would come down and solve the problem. The deus ex machine.
DC: We were talking earlier about how children and teenagers are much more susceptible to inexplicable things. Did you ever have those experiences growing up of things that go bump in the night?
SD: Oh yeah.
DC: Yeah? Is there one that you’ll never forget?
SD: Yeah, but I mean, I don’t talk about those. I can’t. It’s just not something I do.
DC: Is it because it scared you?
SD: Yeah, I mean, I felt a lot of fear as a child. That was the primary emotion I felt as a kid growing up. I know people who had worse childhoods than me who didn’t grow up with as much fear so part of it is my emotional makeup, but the worst things that happened to me as a child, three people know. So it’s that kind of thing so I don’t know if I can talk about it.
DC: What about horror films that are more about the horror of the human being like, say, Blue Ruin, did you see that?
SD: I did. It’s a terrific movie.
DC: Would you ever feel like you’d want to make a movie like that?
SD: Absolutely because I think that horror always gets that unspoken fear and unspeakable fear and sometimes it’s the fear of the evil in nature that can consume us. I mean evil in the sense of the catastrophic, murderous power that it carries over us. That’s one kind of horror, the natural disaster movie. Fear of the other, the supernatural. Those are the ones I’ve been most drawn to. I think those tend to be the ones that are the scariest, that tap into the deepest fears.
But I think probably the most significant ones are the movies about just the evil within humanity and the complexities of the evil within us and the unspoken and unspeakable evil within both the deranged human and the normal human. Seven is my favorite film of the last twenty-five years. I think it’s an incredibly profound film. I’ve seen it many, many times and it really puts me into a moral labyrinth where I discover myself thinking about things new every time I see that movie. I think that that’s stuff that only this genre can do, the dark thriller and the horror film.
DC: So, going back a little bit, going to see a horror film, as far as you imagine, can be almost cathartic for people in terms of releasing that emotion of fear. Are there other ways of doing that that might not have to do with subjecting yourself to a really scary horror film?
SD: Oh yeah, absolutely because using art, Gothic art, horror art as a way of doing that is one avenue and for somebody like me it’s an attractive outlet. I’m drawn to that. I like that kind of art and I crave that kind of art and entertainment. Here’s what I think, though; I think that I love the horror genre because it is the genre of non denial. It is the genre that goes into the things that you’re not supposed to go into and that people are scared to go into and for me as a creative person I try to go into material that I generally find upsetting and disturbing. So it’s not always a pleasant experience, especially in the writing stage, but that is a habit that everybody should have in their life. Even if you can’t stand horror films, I think that the best way to get past any fear is to confront it. It’s the only way. You’ve got to wrestle with it until it loses its grip on you. That’s the only way I have found and I feel like I’m fearless now but I think it took me my whole life to get here. I don’t think I started really feeling that way until the last five years and starting to feel finally free like, “I’m living my life without any fears.” But it’s because a perpetual almost addiction to, if something scares me, my instinct is to move toward it and wrestle with it until it doesn’t scare me anymore.
DC: Wow, because this seems like such a huge thing to confront.
SD: Yeah, it does but at some point you need to put a cap on it. But for somebody like me, I think it’s true for most people, I think it was this way uniquely for me though, when your fears are crippling it becomes something you get good at and then you don’t want to stop until all the big fears have been reckoned with, but I think it’s something everybody ought to do in some form.
Joel McHale, Sean Harris, Edgar Ramirez, and Olivia Munn star alongside Eric Bana. The film is a paranormal thriller produced by Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Derrickson directs a script he and Paul Boardman (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) wrote.
Look for it in theaters July 2, 2014.
New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Bana), struggling with his own personal issues, begins investigating a series of disturbing and inexplicable crimes. He joins forces with an unconventional priest (Ramirez), schooled in the rituals of exorcism, to combat the frightening and demonic possessions that are terrorizing their city. Based upon the book, which details Sarchie’s bone-chilling real-life cases.
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