The Exorcism of Emily Rose
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a bit deceiving. Going in, you think it's going to be about a girl horrifyingly possessed by demons. But the film is more a courtroom drama centering on the priest who is blamed for the girl's death. It does feel a bit like a TV movie of the week, but the strong performances elevate it to another level.
Inspired by true events, we are told Emily Rose's harrowing tale through her priest, Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson). As sanctioned by the Catholic Church, Father Moore tried to perform an exorcism on the girl, but failed. On trial for what the prosecution calls Emily's ''negligent murder,'' Father Moore isn't afraid to go to jail. He is just desperate to tell Emily's story--how this fresh-faced, seemingly healthy 19-year-old farm girl (Jennifer Carpenter) goes off to college and comes back home speaking in tongues, eating giant bugs and apparently inhabited by not just one but six separate demons who finally kill her. This is what Emily's family and Father Moore firmly believe happened to her. The medical community, however, claims Emily suffered from a combination of epilepsy and psychosis that, without proper medication, resulted in her death. In a case that will certainly further her career if she wins, whip-smart defense lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) sets out to prove Father Moore only wanted to help. While the facts are laid out, the underlying question as to whether supernatural and evil entities truly exist remains constant. Don't expect any answers.
The cast's riveting performances is the real reason why Emily Rose isn't an original TV movie. Through Linney (Kinsey), Wilkinson (In the Bedroom) and Campbell Scott (Roger Dodger), who plays the prosecuting attorney, we get three varying views on the subject of demon possession. Erin represents those who just don't know what they believe, and Linney does a convincing job portraying a woman who is trying to do her job but, at the same time, is bothered by how it's affecting her. As the prosecuting attorney, Scott is the naysayer. He's a devout Methodist, but he doesn't believe in the Catholic notion of possession and exorcism. And, of course, Father Moore is the true believer. Wilkinson doesn't play him as a crackpot; rather, he gives the character a calm intelligence. He also shows us a man who has been deeply affected, not only by his failure to help Emily but by his compulsion to tell her story to the rest of the world. Then there's Carpenter as the tortured Emily. Apparently, after director Scott Derrickson saw what the young newcomer could do with her body and voice to make being invaded by demons believable (pay close attention to her hands), he knew he would need very little special effects. Carpenter does an amazing job--without ever spewing green goo.
More than just a head-spinning, pea-soup-vomiting horror flick, Emily Rose roots its terror in reality, which in a way makes it creepier. Now, I'm not saying The Exorcist isn't one of the most frightening movies ever made, but Derrickson, who also co-wrote Emily Rose, takes the horrifying idea of demon possession and turns it into something less graphic and more thought provoking. To begin with, it's a little unnerving to know the Catholic Church is taking exorcisms pretty seriously. You might scratch your head on this one, wondering if angels and demons really do exist. If at 3 a.m., the witching hour does indeed begin, then the smell of something burning (sulfur, perhaps?) means the demons have come out to play. Still, in analyzing Emily's case through a courtroom, the movie leans toward those soapbox Perry Mason-style speeches about fact vs. faith. Some of them work, and are executed with full effect, especially Erin's closing argument. But you know that if the same film starred Melissa Gilbert and Richard Chamberlain, it'd be on the USA Network.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose may disappoint some who are looking for an out-and-out Exorcist-like movie and are bored by its TV themes. But with some superb acting, and a few well-placed scare tactics, the rest of us just might get freaked out if we wake up at 3 a.m. and smell smoke.