Reel Evil

In an interview about his new film Deliver Us from Evil, which is based on real-life investigations of paranormal activity and demonic possession by NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie, director Scott Derrickson explains the connection between his love for Flannery O’Connor and making horror films:

Flannery O’Connor is my creative hero. I think she’s the greatest American writer. Her book, Mystery and Manners, is my creative bible. I’m humbled by the comparison. She’s a true American treasure.

She said to the deaf you have to shout and to the blind you have to draw large and startling pictures. That phrase itself is as good of an apologetic for horror as you’re ever going to speak.

What I love about her work and what I’m still learning is the manner in which she trusted the complexities of narrative to place her readers in the right range to gather what they needed or to miss it if they weren’t prepared for it. In the end her stories are like moral mazes, and you’re not going to be able to get to the end and have a clean takeaway but she will have placed you in an arena of thought until you’ve worked something out. She does all that while being shocking and entertaining and giving you a great tale. If there’s an artist’s philosophy that I aspire to, it’s hers. There’s a love of mystery there.

He goes on to describe how he showed his actors tapes of real exorcisms – and what he makes of their reality:

[S]ome of what happens in the movie is true to life. I’ve seen a guy being held down and his forehead all of a sudden opens up on its own and starts bleeding. If you’re a materialist skeptic you’re going to have to deny that it happened. But Ralph Sarchie was there and saw it. Some of these extreme things really happen.

But what makes it scary is not those inexplicable things, it’s the depth of human suffering that you’re witnessing and the unrelenting banality of evil and the sense of alien presence in these people and the credibility of the testimony of the people who’ve gone through it.

I didn’t show Eric [Bana] one tape; I showed him a bunch of tapes. I even showed him some Islamic exorcisms. This isn’t just a Christian phenomenon. This is an anthropological reality. When the disciples came to Jesus complaining of someone casting out demons even though he was not one of their followers—Jesus says let him do it, because he’s still helping people.

It’s not as wildly dramatic as what it is in The Exorcist or my film but it’s more dramatic than people think. But what’s deeply frightening or disturbing about it is not the paranormal activity; it is the profundity of human suffering at work.

Recent Dish on exorcisms here.