Grey, the color of winter frost, dimmer-switch lighting, and moody cinematography. “Deliver Us,” a loopy “The Omen”-style Antichrist horror-thriller, is also grey. Just look at the movie’s poster and trailer. Grey isn’t just a color or an aesthetic—it’s a whole dire vibe.
You might, therefore, worry that, despite the pulpy nature of this sort of material, “Deliver Us” will not also be fun. Thankfully, there are very few scenes in this movie, all about a Russian nun who claims Immaculate Conception and then gives birth to twins, that don’t leave one squinting in wonder, confusion, and maybe amusement. Directed by Cru Ennis and Lee Roy Kunz, “Deliver Us” features psychic babies, a murderous one-eyed German priest, nudity, bear traps, performances of variable quality and styles, apocalyptic visions, breast-feeding, decapitations, Estonian wolves, and even some sex. This movie would look great at the drive-in if you could only see it there.
“Deliver Us” begins with a ritualistic series of decapitations. The camera slowly tracks down a line of shivering faces, kneeling in medium closeup, just ahead of a stern-looking fellow with a machete. We only see the killer’s machete after he tees up for the last victim in line. Blood spurts on each successive face, so you can tell that all these panicked, heavy-breathing people are afraid of something. These are Zoroastrians, by the way.
After the violence, we see various naked and now headless bodies as they’re dragged across the floor on their stomachs, presumably because showing us the actors’ genitals would cross a line. A one-eyed priest, Father Saul (Thomas Kretschmann), hangs out by a lit brazier at the far end of a vast, sparingly lit cell. He’s presented with the flayed skin of one of the Zorastrians’ victims. He makes a face as he pores over the bloody, tattooed skin like it’s a holy text. “Deliver Us” simultaneously is, and it isn’t that kind of movie.
Father Saul soon returns, though he’s obviously not a protagonist. Rather, he chases blinkered Father Fox (Lee Roy Kunz, also the movie’s co-writer/director/producer) from Russia to Estonia after Father Fox is called in by the Vatican for a special mission. Fox’s presence is specifically requested by Sister Yulia (Maria Vera Ratti), a Russian nun who becomes mysteriously pregnant with twins after a suggestive scene where she’s assailed by wind noises and flickering lights.
By the time we meet Fox, he’s already developed a reputation, having assisted with an exorcism in Murmansk. No, really. Father Fox reluctantly takes Yulia’s case, though only after seeking counsel from his Estonian partner Laura (Jaune Kimmel). Laura encourages Fox while he calmly and methodically chops red cabbage in extreme closeup. Laura has faith in her relationship and even alludes to her bright future life with the good father when they’ll settle down in, uh, Canada.
So Father Fox travels to Yulia’s Russian convent with the impressionable Cardinal Russo (Alexander Siddig), a curiously accented Catholic who thinks the weirdest things are “fascinating.” Together, Fox and Russo help Yulia give birth to twins, one of whom might be “the Christ child” and one of whom could be the Antichrist. The Vatican wants to abort both kids just to be safe. Father Saul also wants Yulia’s children, so he follows her and Fox to Laura’s secluded Estonian estate. Fox also experiences campy visions, including a nightmare where he delivers the twins from an icy lake. In at least one scene, the twins exhibit psychic powers. One of them speaks with a husky adult male voice.
Some stylistic indicators, like a busy strings-and-percussion score and some arty deep-focus cinematography, suggest that the filmmakers take themselves and this story very seriously. Nevertheless, “Deliver Us” tilts perilously at moods and tones that are rarely fully articulated. Creaky line deliveries, music-video-slick visions, and unpredictable fits of violence are this movie’s normal. The consistent volatility of “Deliver Us” casts a wonky spell.
“Deliver Us” stands apart from many other recent indie genre movie throwbacks given a flurry of endearingly creaky and lurid flourishes. It’s not enough to mimic yesteryear’s Eurosleazy genre movie ripoff cinema. To approach those depths of crass greatness, you should also be so committed to the gonzo reality that you’re depicting that you and your collaborators appear a little blinkered, regardless of your imaginative reach or technical polish. So many creative choices in “Deliver Us” left me wondering what year it was and how this movie wasn’t released with the alternate title of “Beyond the Door VII: More Doors, More Problems.”
“Deliver Us” stands out because its creators have struck the ideal balance of lull-inducing silences to daft genre trope punctuation. It doesn’t make much sense, or flow smoothly from one scene to the next. But boy, “Deliver Us” sure does what it does.
Now playing in theaters.