The Exorcism Of Emily Rose

Possession is three fifths of the score

Released in 2005, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 29 Nov 2005 by Craig Eastman
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose image

Right off the bat let's get one thing clear: The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is not a horror movie. It is, in fact, a courtroom drama. No doubt this will come as a shock to many who, having seen the trailer, would quite rightly expect a demonic chill-fest of near The Exorcist proportions. We certainly were. Imagine our disappointment after two hours invested in a cinema upon discovering what is in fact a diluted blend of one part The Evil Dead to five parts A Time To Kill. The good news is that so long as you're willing to forgive the marketing department's blatant fibbing there is still a very enjoyable tale to absorb, scares or otherwise.

Based loosely (that's L-O-O-S-E-L-Y) on the case of German girl Anneliese Michel who was recognised by the Catholic Church as being demonically possessed back in the mid-70s, TEOER begins in the wake of it's protagonist's death and focuses instead on the trial of her carer Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), relating events leading up to Emily's (Jennifer Carpenter) demise in staggered flashback. Having been granted sole charge of Emily after her family lost all hope of curing her condition through traditional means, Father Moore begins a regime of "religious healing" which includes several failed attempts at exorcism and little else other than faith in Him upstairs. Of course the Rose family's willingness to adopt this method does not in the eyes of the court repudiate Father Moore's responsibility for their daughter's death, and so Public Prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) sets about dismantling his opponent's reputation in the name of what he himself staunchly believes to be justice.

Understandably irked by the potential whitewashing of their own reputation by a rabid press, the Catholic Church employ the services of Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), a rising star in the world of legal defence, to convince Moore to accept a reduced charge in exchange for a guilty plea. Trouble is Father Moore isn't so interested in the churches reputation as he is in telling the world of an important message at the heart of Emily's story, and to this end he refuses Bruner's suggestion and draws the ambitious law firm junior into a tangle between her own lack of faith, her ambition, Moore's staunch belief in his actions and the prosecution's desire to see him made a particularly potent example of. All of which, as you would imagine, leaves precious little room for supernatural shenanigans in between. And you'd be right.

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose image

Rather fortunate then that during the all-too brief periods where legal process gives way to demonic brouhaha director Scott Derrickson proves just as effective in creaky barns and dimly-lit bedrooms as he does in the court. It's especially pleasing that so much of the unsettling action comes from Carpenter's bravely physical performance as it does from CG trickery, with as many nerves jangled by Emily's gargling contortions as clouds taking on the form of satanic effigies. True, this is no The Exorcist, but misleading marketing aside it's nobody's intention to make it so. The real focus is the debate as to wether traditional medications should have given way to ritualistic proceedings in a case where so many of the facts are confused by alternate explanations and personal interpretations of belief and morality, but as a sideline TEOER's scares amount to more than the sum of their parts, and certainly more than most dedicated horror films within recent memory whose names I've striven to forget.

Performance-wise things are mostly on par. The central cast chiefly deliver on expectation which is perhaps just as well when any serious thesping can so easily be usurped by the rare silly moment such as Wilkinson's priest being assailed by a spring-loaded cat. Linney is convincing as the ambitious lawyer, if a little sterile (actually, that's probably a perfect performance), Wilkinson efficient if hardly at his best, and Carpenter is, as mentioned before, impressive though a little under-used. Scene-stealing honours must surely go to Campbell Scott, a OneLiner favourite who is often criminally neglected and here outplays everybody with a quietly angry, focussed performance as a man whose courtroom performance barely conceals a moral rage that often seeps out between the cracks of his persona.

For sure TEOER plays host to the odd half-baked or downright silly moment (a crucial witness' decision to finally appear in court cut abruptly short by an alleyway interface with a speeding car feels more like The Omen sequels' gory take than a serious adult drama), and no doubt a great number of people will not enjoy it purely because it roundly fails to deliver on a false promise sold by a ridiculously ms-informative trailer. Viewed objectively however this is a wholly satisfying movie that pays it's audience with the compliment of assuming they have some intelligence, unlike nearly every other movie you'll see this year. Go into the auditorium armed with this knowledge and you're extremely likely to come away with some degree of satisfaction. By no means a great movie, this does perform as inoffensive a function as you could hope for, and in a week that also saw the release of this I know where I'd rather be spending my crisp green sheets.

I award this movie 3 out of 5 Carbon Units

Scott Derrickson
Cast list:
Tom Wilkinson (Father Moore)
Laura Linney (Erin Bruner)
Jennifer Carpenter (Emily Rose)
Campbell Scott (Ethan Thomas)