A Disturbing and Chilling Biblical Twist
Lee Roy Kunz begins Deliver Us with a gruesome introduction, but this doesn’t define his, Kane Kunz, and Cru Ennis’ film. The biblical horror puts a unique twist on cult-like terrors through strong cinematography, bold writing, and overall dedicated performances by its cast. Genre fans can also reminisce on their favorite classic movies when watching this supernatural flick. Perhaps without realizing it, the Kunz duo gives us glimpses of The Shining, The Danvici Code, The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, and several others. However, the filmmakers do not emulate them in their script. They simply keep viewers on the edge of their seats as the story accelerates toward the end through bloody and icy sequences intertwined with a nearly forbidden love story.
Deliver Us introduces the audience to an ancient prophecy that predicts a woman will become pregnant and give birth to two twins: the Messiah and the Anti-Christ. When young nun Sister Yulia (Maria Vera Ratti) is immaculately impregnated with twins, she enlists the help of Kunz’s character, Father Fox. Little do they initially know how deep their involvement is in the newborns’ lives, but dark spirits force the theological pair to come together and protect the twins.
Pushing the Boundaries
For a group of devout followers of Catholicism, Fox, his girlfriend Laura (Jaune Kimmel), and Yulia are open to breaking the rules. A love triangle quickly develops as Yulia starts to fall for the young priest while he is still supposedly in love with his girlfriend, whom he wants to start a family with. For most of the film, the audience can see the undertone between Father Fox and Sister Yulia. As two servants of God, both characters must be careful about their feelings. How long can that resistance last, though?
It’s refreshing to see a film challenge an entire practice—it’s basically forbidden love. However, some audiences may disagree with this, depending on their beliefs. It’s not new, of course, to see the Catholic religion get distorted in a horror movie. This cinematic tradition goes back to the days before The Exorcist. How many priests have we seen on the big screen push the boundaries of their job? If anyone is strongly against Deliver Us solely due to its violence and romance, just watch Doubt.
Father Fox is clearly a young priest who has bent quite a few rules. And by the end, he completely flips his role upside down. Kunz delivers a convincing and gripping performance. As a young priest, his character doesn’t behave the same as the older and more established Cardinal Russo (Alexander Siddig). The protagonist has a different, younger charm, which gives him a different edge. This is why it’s jarring when we see him act out of character. In general, Kunz’s priest is a generous, compassionate, hopeless romantic, but a sinister force could take a serious toll on him. Ultimately, the actor-screenwriter-director triple threat grapples each viewer with his eyes; his performance is effective.
Nevertheless, some viewers familiar with Catholicism might question Father Fox’s young demeanor. What kind of a priest simply blurts out that a woman “has to have sex” rather than a more conservative term, such as “consummation” or even “intercourse?” There are a few moments like this featuring Father Fox. However, this could have been part of the charm that the screenwriters wanted to convey.
As for Yulia, she is initially seen as the innocent, wide-eyed nun when she first meets Father Fox. Then, viewers see how strong she is. The birth scene on the train captures Ratti’s range as an actor. She encapsulates the pain and anguish of the pregnancy that grips the audience. It’s hard to look away because we’re rooting for her to survive this, given that she is carrying the equivalent of Jesus and Lucifer.
However, Ratti’s character isn’t just strong because she gives birth. Yulia captivates us with her kindness, which is ingrained in her in addition to her unwavering determination. She surprises us in several moments throughout the movie. We watch an innocent nun experience the bloodthirsty supernatural realm, the pain of pregnancy, the highs of sex, and the inherent need to protect her new children. Yulia has many sides, and she captivates us all.
Kimmel is another forceful part of Deliver Us. The actor is a master of subtlety. Her character, Laura, doesn’t need to contort her face to convey her feelings. She can suffer pain and fear internally, and we see this through Kimmel’s facial expressions. While some may describe them as totally blank, Kimmel uses this to her advantage. One scene in particular just features a zoom-in on her face while she appears to have a silent, telekinetic moment with one of the twin babies as her boyfriend, Father Fox, and Yulia helplessly watch. It’s simply gripping as the seconds tick by while she holds the child; we and the other characters don’t know what she will do next. True fear is awakened from within, and it’s clear that Kimmel’s character ends the film on this note in a haunting manner.
Eerie, Wintry Cinematography
The wide landscape shots are undeniably chilling. The filmmakers knew exactly how to set up the environment they created, and what better season to choose than the freezing, teeth-chattering winter?
Several transitional scenes begin with a bird’s-eye view of forests and roads entrenched in snow. It’s a strong method to set up the gloomy tone because of how delicate yet harmful snow can be. It’s easy for audiences to start shivering at the sight of the outdoor countryside. One scene in particular is Father Fox’s nightmare—envision a cold, dark night in an ice pond completely naked, and that’s not even the full scope of the scene. But the film’s shooting locations and dark tint depict an even colder supernatural story, one that we haven’t watched dozens of times before.
The most obvious pitfall of Deliver Us comes down to one constant aspect—how many female actors have to be completely nude? Yes, Father Fox has his own “go big or go home” moment in the film, but both Kimmel and Ratti strip down much more than any male character does. Perhaps one could argue that this is a way to celebrate the female anatomy, let alone the human body, but others can see this as simple sexualization and objectification—especially considering the forbidden fruit trope that the theological story features.
The movie starts and ends with nudity. However, both scenes are in stark contrast to each other. One is vividly disturbing and difficult to watch, while the other is a gentler Adam and Eve-esque painting. Throughout the story, though, the audience gets a full view of the main actors. From a shower to an ice pond and even to an altar, viewers get no shortage of nudity. This establishes a cult-ish aura, which maybe the filmmakers were aiming for. However, it could have been toned down a notch. Deliver Us doesn’t need to try so hard to be scary. It already is, thanks to its paranormal jolts and moments of possession.
Deliver Us was clearly a labor of love. The attention to set details, along with the various languages, create a unique and captivating film. Not many horrors feature different cultures, let alone both Russian and American. The Kunz duo’s film combines several themes and character archetypes that we’ve seen in past movies. However, it’s rare to watch them all unfold throughout one story, crescendoing into a bright eclipse.
Deliver Us hits theaters on September 29.
Deliver Us (2023) Official Magnolia Pictures and Magnet Releasing Trailer