THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE
(This movie was the first time we became aware of Jennifer Carpenter, who of course went on to better stuff like QUARANTINE and the Showtime series DEXTER)
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(In a room where twenty clocks are all stopped at 3:00AM, L.L. SOARES sits on the floor, twisted in the shape of a pretzel, when MICHAEL ARRUDA enters.)
MA: Yes! It’s finally happened! You’re possessed!
LS: Nope, I’m just doing some yoga (gets up). But that reminds me of the movie we’re reviewing this month…. (Suddenly, LS starts speaking in strange languages).
MA: See, you’re speaking in tongues! You are possessed! Demons exist!
LS: No, I’m swearing. I just stubbed my damn toe (grumbles).
This time around we’re reviewing THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. In it, Laura Linney plays Erin Bruner, a defense lawyer who is also an agnostic. She is given the job of defending Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) who is charged with killing 19-year old Emily Rose while performing an exorcism on her.
Linney’s opponent in the case, ironically enough, is prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), who is also a man of faith. Scott’s character has to convince the jury that Father Moore’s actions led to Emily’s death by preventing her from getting the medical attention she needed.
The court case is pretty much the heart of the movie, but as we learn more and more about the case, we are treated to lots of flashbacks to Emily’s possession and the exorcism itself.
The movie is based on the supposedly true trial of a priest who performed a real exorcism that turned lethal. The question is – is possession real? Or was Emily Rose simply the victim of psychosis? While the movie pretends to be neutral, it really isn’t. We know right away whose side the film is on, and who its sympathies are with, as even Linney’s character begins to believe in demons.
I had a real mixed reaction to this movie. I thought the scenes of possession weren’t that bad – this movie was a big improvement over the last exorcism movie we saw, the utterly boring EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING directed by Renny Harlin. Compared to Harlin’s lame take on this subject, EMILY ROSE is a work of art.
But this movie has a real sense of identity crisis. It was clearly promoted as a horror movie, yet it’s really a courtroom drama with horror flashbacks. It certainly could have focused more on the horror aspects and been a lot scarier. I have to admit, however, that I went into this movie with no expectations, and it was better than I expected. The acting is very good, and the movie at least tries to put an interesting spin to the topic of exorcism. It by no means comes anywhere close to the sheer genius of William Friedkin’s original THE EXORCIST, but it certainly is better than most other films on the subject.
I didn’t love EMILY ROSE, but I didn’t hate it either. It was certainly better than most of the movies we’ve been reviewing lately and isn’t totally brainless at least.
MA: I agree. Actually, I think I liked it more than you did. Sure, it’s not as good as THE EXORCIST, but few films are.
First off, I thought it was scary. I liked the exorcism scenes a lot. They weren’t hokey. They were real and frightening. And I found the events leading up to the exorcism rather unnerving, where we see demons in various forms and the different stages of Emily’s possession. I also liked the scenes where Laura Linney’s character is alone in her apartment in the middle of the night, and she’s spooked. I was spooked, too.
LS: Everything spooks you! Boo!
MA (Screams): Cut it out!
LS (Holding a butcher’s knife): My pleasure! I know what your problem is. You’re so starved from all the awful movies we’ve seen lately, you think this is great filmmaking!
MA (Slobbering like a dog): Starved? What makes you say that?
The acting was terrific, especially the two leads, Linney and Wilkinson. It’s interesting how Emily Rose’s character isn’t really all that important in the film, but the movie doesn’t suffer from it.
LS: (Head spins completely around, but MA doesn’t notice): I actually thought that the actress who played Emily Rose, Jennifer Carpenter, was very good and convincing in the role. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of her.
MA: I also enjoyed the camera work, especially during the exorcism scenes where the film has a gritty BLAIR WITCH PROJECT feel.
LS: (Pukes pea soup, then wipes his mouth): For some reason, I really felt that they were holding back in the horror scenes. That they could have gone further with the scares, but chose not to. I think EMILY ROSE could have been a much better movie if it weren’t so restrained. Then again, this was probably a conscious choice to preserve the desired PG-13 rating.
MA: It’s just simply a matter of being scary without being graphic. I have no problem calling it a horror movie. It’s not going to make audiences scream out loud, but as we’ve said before in this column, there are many different forms of horror. EMILY ROSE falls under the category of “horror courtroom tale.” Hmm. Pretty original!
This is a film where you add up the parts and come up with a decent movie. You have solid acting, a good script, and well-crafted, creepy scenes. It doesn’t let the audience down. It does have that TV-movie feeling, since a lot of the film takes place in a courtroom and there’s lots of talking and little action, but to be honest, I found the courtroom scenes both compelling and a relief from the tense demonic scenes. All in all, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE was a pleasant surprise.
LS: I admit it was better than I thought it would be. I think EMILY ROSE is worth seeing. I’d just wait until it came out on DVD.
(LS begins growling again)
MA: What’s the matter? Did you stub your toe again?
LS: No. I AM POSSESSED BY DEMONS!
LS grabs MA and the lights go out.
(First published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on September 22, 2005)
© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares