A new thriller, Deliver Us From Evil, is set to open in theatres July 2, and it got me thinking about paranormal tropes of demonic forces and exorcisms that pervade and persist in the horror genre. This particular film is based on true events of a New York City cop, Ralph Sarchie (played by actor Eric Bana), who starts investigating inexplicable crimes around the area. In the movie, Sarchie enlists a priest, by the name of Mendoza (played by Édgar Ramírez), for help and discovers that these crimes deal with the demonic and supernatural.
In the past 15 years alone, there has been a sudden boom of films released (over 100), with these reoccurring themes, saturating the box office. Why is it so heavily covered in the cinematic realm? Is it because it pounces on our hidden fears of something possessing our soul? What is the best way to terrorize yet amuse moviegoers? Let’s give them demon-possessed men, women and children coming to destroy your life. Religious symbolism, religious symbolism, death, darkness (literal and figurative), screams, gore, religious symbolism.
In maintaining the essence of the horror genre, the images are meant to frighten, but is there more to it? Is its’ purpose to just entertain, or are there more meaningful, philosophical underpinnings about faith, humanity, and pure evil? Is there a message, a way to invoke fear within non-believers (if that’s the intention)? Or a visual testimony of faith being tested by those that believe?
The supernatural is something that we, as humans, have trouble explaining. Like seeing a ghost or an angel, we sometimes question the reality of the supernatural when we experience it, even our belief that it actually exists. When it takes a sinister turn and an evil presence is revealed, it’s very hard to ignore. Some that don’t believe, brush it off as severe mental illness, but if the things that are shown in these films are true (or possibly exaggerated for cinematic effect), then it’s something worth pondering.
Demons are mentioned several times in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. While on earth, Jesus drives various demons away that were locked in the souls of men and women. These accounts illustrate the power and love of Jesus, but shows our human weaknesses and the frailty of human life. Evil, when personified in the form of a demon, is something that we are defenseless to handle without another supernatural presence to force or “cast” them out. Thus, an exorcism is performed.
It shows that evil is not only in, and of, the world, but also outside of it and can enter at any time. It does not need permission. It can consume a human being, an animal, an object and the thing that it possesses has no control. On a very basic human level, not having any control in what you do, say, or feel, is frightening. It also exposes our fears that there are other things among us that are not as we are, and their intent is to haunt, hurt and bring no peace.
On the other hand, it highlights the people that are willing to stand up and combat the presence of evil, like Sarchie, priests and other religious/spiritual guides, and anyone that believes they can make a difference.
Whatever function or purpose these films intend to serve, it reveals that there is a crucial and ongoing battle of good versus evil.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12