It's no secret that, at times, horror films tend to get distracted by their desire to do too much, or too little. On the rare occasion though, you get a near perfect marriage of story, and fright. In Deliver Us From Evil, a story of demonic possession spreading across the Bronx, what you're presented with is an expertly-crafted narrative which delivers on both accounts.
Starting off as what could appear to be the opening of a powerful inner-city police drama, the film draws viewers in by slowly developing the horror until it becomes so intrinsically linked to what is depicted as the dangerous underbelly of NY that one can hardly tell when the genre-switch happened, or if there really was one. This technique is a strong one, as evidenced in this film, and it is eventually amped up by a number of jump-scares. While these typically fail to land with hardcore horror fans (who seem to pride themselves on not reacting), I have to admit - I don't know exactly how or why, but these jump-scares manage to feel more authentic than cliched. Although they did not make me "jump" per-se, the film as a whole often had me feeling utterly unsettled, and this must be a testament to its ability to create a certain atmosphere, which is clearly in some part strengthened by an inexplicably appropriate (over)use of the jump-scare.
VERY MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
As far as cliches go, there are a lot of them and yet the filmmaker finds a way to allow these moments (ie creepy jack-in-the-box playing itself) to feel organic to the moment rather than thrown in to make "horror" quotas.
I personally believe the scares work because not only is there a good balance between expected cliches and unexpected ones (ie the lion attack), but there is also a nice balance between plot and character development. Where many horror movies fail to deliver is on character; we don't care about them, so it's easier to watch them die. But in this 2 hr flick, time is given to allow us to get to know some of them just enough to remain intrigued by the story itself.
Our main character, officer Sarchie (supposedly, the story is based on this man's actual story, but I try not to pay much attention to such disclaimers as they are usually exaggerated for effect and marketing) is a troubled cop. Like many a NY cop character before him, he's tired and angered and distressed by the state of his beloved city. But there is something special about Sarchie - what makes him a great cop, is exactly what leaves him vulnerable to evil...
Our secondary character is Mendoza, a (rocker-esque) priest who is lousy with human flaws. A recovered heroine-addict, Mendoza remains self-aware, and passionate about his decision to forgive himself and connect with God. More importantly, he is passionate about saving lives. This makes him a wonderful partner for Sarchie who is a former-Catholic who can no longer see God in his surroundings.
As a final thought, I'd like to point out that this is perhaps the best use of music in a horror film I have witnessed in quite sometime. The poison of choice? The Doors. You may not imagine that would work, but trust me - it does.