We've become inured—via reality TV and various Christopher Guest wannabes—to the conventions of the documentary format. (Montage of yearbook photos? Check. Deadpan first-person recountings that end with a nervous glance off camera? Gotcha.) So it can be a real shock when something emerges from the glut to pin our ears back. Deliver Us from Evil, director Amy Berg's blistering exposé about pedophilia in the Catholic Church, certainly doesn't want for sensationalistic subject matter, but the real impact comes from the methodical compiling of evidence. Berg, a former CNN producer, clearly knows her subject well, and her immersion into this most distasteful of topics makes for a devastating debut.
Working in a clean, cinematic style, Berg shifts with ease between tearful interviews with the victims and a remarkably clear-eyed exploration of the larger epidemic, uncovering a wealth of compelling evidence on how the papal system creates (and often encourages) deviant behavior. (The videotaped depositions of various church elders nervously lying their cassocks off while under oath delivers some much-needed, blackly comic relief.) What lingers longest, however—and what ultimately makes this film just about queasily un-missable—are the interviews with Oliver O'Grady, a former California priest deported to Ireland after amassing a victim list estimated to be in the hundreds. In front of the camera, O'Grady comes across as soft-spoken, personable, even charming. But then comes an inappropriate wink, or a fleeting smile, and the enormity—the reality—of his crimes comes blasting back in. All the made-up boogeymen and closet monsters in the world can't compare.