The Exorcism of Emily Rose / Phillip Stephens
Film Reviews | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()
Some films are so vapidly lumbering in the shadow of other, greater films that they don’t even bother to tweak their titles in the futile attempt to disengage themselves, as is the case with The Exorcism of Emily Rose. But in all fairness, director Scott Derrickson and writer Paul Boardman do frame their frighteningly unoriginal story in a typically unused horror milieu — the courtroom — making it stand out, if only a teensy bit.
Exorcism (which exhorts that it is based on “true” events; a similar case in Germany) follows the trial of Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) who is being prosecuted by the state for the negligent homicide of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) — a devout Catholic girl who has just left her rural town for college. One night Emily is haunted by appalling visions and bodily seizures, which the prosecution contends was the onset of epilepsy and psychosis. Emily, on the other hand, was convinced she was fancied by demonic forces. Her episodes became progressively more violent and, seeing as medication wasn’t helping, she was brought home and administered by Father Moore for a more Satan-related affliction. Unfortunately, the exorcism fails, Emily dies of chronic malnourishment, and Moore is charged for negligence in her death.
Taking up Moore’s case is agnostic go-getter Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), who’s pretty skeptical on the demon front, but becomes shaken into belief by some mildly devilish encounters of her own. She ends up countering the prosecution’s medical explanations by trying to validate Emily’s possession, a tactic that seems less implausible when several doctors’ testimonies are revealed to be as convoluted and uncertain as the religious ones.
The trial takes up most of the expositio, the horror elements being presented as intercalary flashbacks throughout. In this way, Exorcism does a decent job of balancing out and emphasizing its scarier elements and setting a brooding ambiance. But Derrickson’s PG-13 rating prevents him from evoking enough of the lurid horror that made the original Exorcist so memorable, and his courtroom scenes are only about as engaging as an overlong “Law & Order,” failing to gain enough momentum for the “catharsis” submitted at film’s end. Still, if it disappoints at being particularly unsettling, Exorcism has its fair share of creepiness: Facades appear in windows, faces and pictures morph into bloody corpuscles, and Jennifer Carpenter has the ability to contort her face and scream in truly horrendous ways.
The movie’s biggest drawback is that merely hints at exploring the muddled grounds separating faith and reason. Both explanations are offered as solutions for Emily’s illness, with seemingly well-contrasted rationales, but this gets boggled by the fairly silly episodes involving Linney’s encounters with evil forces, and ultimately ruins the thought-provoking element.
But these failures are common ones and evidence of the shoddy, uncreative writing in films nowadays. Exorcism is, at least, finely paced, finely shot, and acted with believable sincerity by its handful of Oscar-nominees. It does a better job of creating terror and tension than most slashers, and its attempt at highbrow thinking is at least a step in the right direction. Anyone with genuine interest in religious arcana should be pleased; otherwise save this for a rainy Saturday night and watch it on TBS.
Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.