The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) / Drama-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for disturbing images
Running Time: 114 min.
Cast: Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Jennifer Carpenter, Colm Feore, Joshua Close, Ken Welsh,
Director: Scott Derrickson
Screenplay: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Review published November 20, 2005
Part horror flick, part courtroom drama, The Exorcism of Emily Rose tells an extraordinary story of one young woman's strange and self-destructive behavior, leading to an argument on whether demonic possession is a legitimate occurrence, or if it is all a by-product of psychosis and epileptic seizures. It is plausible as both, depending on your own personal beliefs, although the deck here is clearly stacked in favor of the demonic possession angle, as the flashbacks to Emily's condition definitely relies on depictions of events that could only come from supernatural forces at play. It works better as a piece of entertainment more so than as a legitimate argument on science vs. God, and as long as you realize that the events told in the story are not to be taken at face value (it was based very loosely on the events that occurred to Anneliese Michel from Germany in the early 1970s), you will be properly set to be engaged by an often fascinating movie with some interesting food for thought. It's manipulative, but commands attention nonetheless.
Laura Linney (Kinsey, P.S.) stars as agnostic hotshot defense attorney Erin Bruner, assigned a highly publicized case defending a priest named Moore (Wilkinson, Batman Begins). Father Moore had been called upon to perform an exorcism on Emily Rose (Carpenter, White Chicks), who had suddenly begun seeing what she feels to be demons and visions of evil, culminating in agony, seizures and violent behavior. Ultimate, Emily died from her afflictions, leaving Father Moore as the man that stood in the way of Emily getting the medical care she needed to help allay the psychosis and seizures that resulted in tragedy.
Say what you will about the way the film is presented in terms of its arguments, it is still an engaging story that is bolstered by quality performances all around, and with an especially convincing portrayal by Jennifer Carpenter of a woman racked with agony, hatred, and great emotional and physical pain. Derrickson's direction is effectively creepy in parts, perhaps a bit overreaching in its attempts to go for scary moments. It isn't a scary movie in a traditional sense, but it is effectively haunting. You may not jump in your seat, but you might feel a little on edge for a good time after seeing it (especially around 3am).
Derrickson's film loses some of its power as he starts to show his hand in too obvious a way as the film reaches its final moments. All claims for objectivity are jettisoned in favor of a bold appeal for us (the jury being the proxy) to doubt science and open us up to the possibility that things that cannot be easily explained may be reason to accept the notion of divine intervention. How well you receive such an argument will most likely depend on your own personal beliefs going in, although it's safe to say that no one is likely to be converted by the end of the film.
Perhaps a little more ambiguity and would have helped -- all flashbacks are depicted in such a way that you absolutely would have to believe the existence of God argument to make sense of it all. Perhaps Derrickson could have taken a page from a similar movie about science vs. divinity, Agnes of God, which featured a nearly identical story of an agnostic searching her soul for explanations of ghastly events inflicted on a seemingly innocent young woman. Emily Rose is worth a viewing for some quality acting, a few chills, and some interesting theories on strange human behavior. For those that take this too seriously in either direction, just remember, this is only a movie -- exploitative entertainment in a very large way, and a mostly fictional movie at that.
©2005 Vince Leo