Movie: "The Exorcism Of Emily Rose"
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Writing credits: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Plot: After a failed exorcism and subsequent death of Emily Rose, Father Richard Moore is arrested and brought to trial under charges of negligent homicide for contributing to her demise by performing the archaic ritual. During his trial, the prosecution argues the case that Emily was simply epileptic and psychotic while Moore's defense team, led by Erin Bruner, maintain that she was indeed possessed by demonic forces and the exorcism only failed because of psychiatric meddling by doctors. Meanwhile, the audience is left to decide for itself who is correct through the use of courtroom testimony and terrifying flashbacks of Emily's "symptoms".
Review: The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a film that has a conflicting nature to it not unlike the conflicting duality between Good & Evil, Heaven & Hell, and PC & Mac. It's a schizophrenic movie that combines two of film's most beloved and successful staples - courtroom drama and horror flick - all the while thumbing its nose at understood movie conventions and challenging genre limitations; and it almost succeeds.
The movie begins with a medical examiner visiting Emily's cold and rickety house to view her recently deceased body and determine the cause of death. His only conclusion however is that based on her corpse, her death "wasn't entirely natural". Despite his findings the state arrests her priest (Tom Wilkinson) on charges of negligent homicide for allowing her to die by administering her prayers and holy water instead of a straight jacket and medication. His only wish is that Emily's story be told despite his lawyer's (Laura Linney) misgivings about going down the whole supernatural, devil-made-me-do-it road. As the trial wears on though and strange things begin to happen to her, Linney's character starts to believe the possibility that Emily was possessed after all and finally implores the jury to believe in that possibility as well.
The story of Emily Rose is told in the film by way of typical courtroom drama scenes characterized by stern judges, expert testimonies, bickering lawyers, and a copious amount of Phoenix Wright inspired objections interspersed with horror movie style flashbacks revealing Emily's demonic symptoms, abject suffering, and horrific decline as told by various witnesses. While the courtroom scenes act as a nice scaffold for the film that keep it organized narratively, they tend to run a little too long and overall, end up being rather dull when compared to the tense and exciting flashback scenes featuring Emily (played by Jennifer Carpenter who is best known for her role in Dexter, while horror fans may remember her great performance in 2008's "Quarantine") and her angry demons. It's in these scenes that the movie really shines as a tightly paced horror movie brimming with uncomfortable creepiness and brilliant acting that leaves little room for cheesy visual FX. In fact, these scenes are so good that it becomes a real shame that less than half of the movie is comprised of them which makes for a pretty jarring viewing experience when the film regularly shifts back to the slow, plodding courtroom scenes.
The film is loosely based on a real woman from Germany named Anneliese Michel who died in 1976 from malnutrition and dehydration following a similar bout of symptoms highlighted in this movie which were also attributed to demonic possession. The movie actually follows the details of that real case pretty closely, so much so that I can't help but feel in doing so, it suffered a little bit. Had "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" moved the courtroom drama to the background or periphery and placed the spiritual battle between Emily, priest, and demon to the fore, it may have been a stronger and more cohesive film.
Still, it was entertaining and the stellar performance by Jennifer Carpenter, who portrayed a Linda Blair-esque demonic possession largely without the use of visual effects, makes the film worth seeing. The courtroom drama can become fairly dull and is definitely jarring, but the film still manages to illicit a few good scares and the atmosphere is always cold and creepy, which makes it perfect for those who like a little bit of horror but are averse to having to sleep with the lights on for a week afterward.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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