The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a film about belief. Its central argument/drive is a focus on something that cannot be seen, and ultimately something that cannot be proven. The film’s impact on its audience also comes down to belief. Centred on spiritual/religious events, The Exorcism of Emily Rose will have more of an impact, in this reviewer’s opinion, on those who are concerned with such events than those who aren’t.
When a devout catholic, Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), passes away after a failed exorcism, her priest, Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), is put on trial for negligent manslaughter. Unwilling to plead guilty to the charges, and convinced that he did the right thing, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), a top defense lawyer and self-proclaimed agnostic, is brought in to argue his case. The prosecution lead by Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) argue that Emily Rose’s death was due to a lack of medical care; care which Father Moore apparently denied, while Erin Bruner is forced to look at the alternative – demonic possession. As the court case proceeds Erin’s agnostic view of the world is shaken as the story of Emily’s supposed possession unfolds.
Yes, you did see the words “court case” in the synopsis. Once again the Hollywood marketing machine will lead many people astray with their trickery, and leave them dissapointed as they run to the theatre expecting another gore-filled blockbuster horror and instead get a court room drama with bits of a horror film cut in. There are no pea green soup bits or heads doing 360s. I did see people walk out shortly after the film had revealed what it really was. The biggest culprit is the title; people will see ‘Exorcism’ and that classic horror film will immediately spring to mind, followed by many pre-conceived ideas and notions of what the film will be like. Most of these will be wrong.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose, however, while being more than a tad misleading (I just watched the trailer on the film’s official site and saw only one courtroom shot) is still a pretty good film.
The attraction for me (being a believer in God), once I realised this wasn’t a real horror film, lay not in the actual scary bits, but in the development of and outcome of the case against Father Moore. The argument in and around the actual exorcism is linked to something that I believe in completely and the film, for these reasons, has some weight behind it.
While not being a true horror, the flashback scenes detailing the actual exorcism are done expertly and Jennifer Carpenter is terrifying as the possessed and often contorting/spasming Emily Rose. How she bent and locked her body into some of the awful and twisted positions is a wonder. Laura Linney, as usual, provides a great performance, although it is somewhat plain.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose will upset many cinemagoers, but not for the reasons they were hoping. It borders on TV movie stuff at times (mainly in the court room) but never tips over the edge into the area of bad programming. It raises issues concerning our world and the spiritual realm and for these reasons it absorbed me. Whether it would have the same effect on someone who denies the existence of such things, I don’t know.