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The Films of Scott Derrickson

Hellraiser: Inferno

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (December 30/05)

Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) is a normal albeit overly religious college student who enlists the help of a priest named Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) after experiencing a series of unquestionably abnormal symptoms. The priest decides that Emily is actually possessed and moves forward with an exorcism. Said exorcism leads to Emily's death; Moore is subsequently charged with murder, with the star attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) assigned to Moore's case (Campbell Scott co-stars as the tough-as-nails prosecutor). The Exorcism of Emily Rose primarily comes off as a straight-forward, matter-of-fact legal drama, as director and co-writer Scott Derrickson generally keeps the inherently spiritual aspects of the story to a minimum. And though the film is exceedingly well acted - Scott, in particular, is quite convincing in his role - there's a curious lack of character development, something that's especially true of Linney's Bruner (we learn that she's Agnostic and little else). The bottom line is that no matter how well made The Exorcism of Emily Rose might be, the overly familiar vibe - thanks to the ubiquitous nature of TV shows like Law and Order and its various spinoffs - ultimately prevents the movie from becoming anything more than a mildly engaging drama.

out of

The Day the Earth Stood Still (January 17/09)

There's little doubt that The Day the Earth Stood Still ultimately stands as an ideal example of what a contemporary remake should look like, as the film - which admittedly does possess its share of problems - essentially uses the basic premise of Robert Wise's 1951 classic as a springboard for an entirely original (and equally entertaining) science-fiction endeavor. The movie follows Keanu Reeves' alien visitor Klaatu as he and an enormous robot guardian (GORT) arrive on earth with an urgent message for its various leaders, with the bulk of the proceedings revolving around scientist Helen Benson's (Jennifer Connelly) efforts at both determining the nature of Klaatu's mission and keeping her irritable step-son (Jaden Smith's Jacob) safe from harm. Director Scott Derrickson ensures that The Day the Earth Stood Still instantly establishes itself as a far more somber and downright epic piece of work than its intriguing yet awfully slight predecessor, with screenwriter David Scarpa's relentlessly morose modus operandi pervading virtually every aspect of the proceedings - thus ensuring that the campiness that defined the first film is almost completely absent here. And while the special effects are a tad on the uneven side - ie GORT's computer-generated origins couldn't possibly be more obvious - Derrickson generally sustains the viewer's interest by stressing the trajectories of the two central characters (ie both Klaatu and Helen, anchored by Reeves and Connelly's respectively compelling work, become figures worth following and rooting for). The movie's only real misstep - aside from its eye-rollingly preachy message (which, to be fair, is no more obtrusive than it was in the original) - is the ongoing emphasis on Helen's fractured connection with her step-son, as the egregiously confrontational nature of their relationship proves an absolutely needless element within an otherwise engaging piece of work.

out of

Sinister (October 8/12)

Directed by Scott Derrickson, Sinister follows true-crime novelist Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) as he and his family move into a house where a gruesome murder occurred years prior - with creepiness ensuing after Ellison discovers a series of 8mm recordings detailing the pursuit and murder of various individuals. Derrickson, along with cowriter C. Robert Cargill, does an impressive job of initially drawing the viewer into the admittedly familiar narrative, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a palpably ominous feel that's heightened by the sporadic inclusion of genuinely disturbing images and sequences. Hawke's expectedly engrossing performance goes a long way towards perpetuating the movie's compulsively watchable atmosphere, and there's little doubt that Sinister is, in its early stages, one of the most promising horror efforts of its type to come around in quite some time. It's just as clear, however, that the film loses a little momentum as it rolls into its padded-out and overlong midsection, with the ongoing emphasis on the increased marital strife between Ellison and his wife (Juliet Rylance's Tracy), though effective at deepening the movie's dramatic resonance, ensuring that Sinister rarely feels as tight or as taut as it could (and should) have been. There's nevertheless no denying the impact of the unexpectedly captivating final stretch, with the appropriately downbeat finale confirming the film's place as a consistently watchable yet somewhat uneven piece of work.

out of

Deliver Us From Evil (July 22/14)

A rare (and altogether colossal) misstep from Scott Derrickson, Deliver Us From Evil follows hard-boiled cop Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) as he becomes convinced that a supernatural force is behind a grisly series of murders. It's clear fairly early on that despite the otherworldly bent of the movie's narrative, Deliver Us From Evil generally plays out like a generic and overly familiar police procedural - as Derrickson places an ongoing emphasis on Ralph's investigation into the increasingly strange happenings. There's little doubt, too, that the stale atmosphere is exacerbated by Derrickson's use of decidedly hackneyed elements, with the best and most cogent example of this the continued presence of Ralph's comedic-relief partner (Joel McHale, unable to convincingly step into the shoes of this tough-guy figure). Derrickson's inability to wring any real scares or suspense out of this scenario is, to put it mildly, rather problematic, while the filmmaker's overuse of dark, dank visuals - ie every other scene is flooded with flickering lights - grows tiresome virtually from the get-go. By the time the seemingly endless climax rolls around - it's impossible to recall a more uninteresting and flat-out dull cinematic exorcism - Deliver Us From Evil has certainly cemented its place as a distressingly underwhelming thriller that pales in comparison to Derrickson's previous endeavors.

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Doctor Strange (December 17/16)

Quite possibly the worst of the Marvel movies, Doctor Strange follows Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange as he loses the use of his hands in a car accident and travels East in search of a possible cure - with the film detailing Strange's transformation into a powerful magician (and his eventual efforts at defeating Mads Mikkelsen's diabolical Kaecilius). Filmmaker Scott Derrickson, working from a script cowritten with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill, delivers a tedious opening hour that seems to have emerged directly from a template for comic-book-superhero origin stories, as Doctor Strange's excessively familiar atmosphere is compounded by an emphasis on virtually all of the beats and plot twists one has come to expect from Marvel endeavors (including a reluctant hero and an ongoing emphasis on eye-rollingly snarky instances of humor). Derrickson's complete and total inability to draw the viewer into the deliberately-paced proceedings grows more and more problematic as time progresses, with the presence of an almost unconscionably uninvolving midsection, which revolves around Strange's endlessly repetitive training at the hands of Tilda Swinton's mystical Ancient One, perpetuating the movie's arms-length vibe. (It doesn't help, certainly, that the consistent emphasis on astral planes and mirror universes results in a lack of real-world stakes.) And although Cumberbatch is decent as the title character (and the supporting cast is filled with able performers), Doctor Strange progresses from bad to worse as it lumbers into its special-effects heavy third act - with, especially, the climactic stretch so overloaded with unconvincing, excessive computer-generated imagery that one begins counting the minutes before the credits roll. It's ultimately apparent that Derrickson is completely out of his depth here, as Doctor Strange, for the duration of its frequently interminable running time, remains unable to wholeheartedly (or even partially) justify its very existence - with a more apt title for the picture, after all is said and done, Special Effects: The Movie.

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© David Nusair