Scott Derrickson’s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (2005) is based on the real events of a German-Catholic woman named Anneliese Michel who in the 70’s had the rites of exorcism performed on her to cast out six or more demonic entities that resulted in her death. Germany had its own hand in a full-length feature film about Michel in 2006 called “Requiem”; and while “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” would inevitably be compared to “The Exorcist” rather than to the German film, I think this film isn’t your conventional horror film seeing as it is more of a courtroom drama. I appreciate Scott Derrickson’s (who directs and co-writes the film) approach to Michel’s story as I did appreciate Hans-Christian Schmid’s humanistic approach. The movie is said to have been based on the case files of the attorney who had defended Michel’s parents and the two priests who performed the exorcism.
Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) is a young woman with strong Catholic beliefs who appears to be a normal college student who aspires to become a teacher. But Emily has more deep problems than passing the next test or writing an essay; she believes that she is possessed by a demon. She asks for assistance from experts in the medical field to no avail. Soon, she convinces her family to seek the aid of their parish priest, Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) to try and exorcise the demonic entity that dwells within her. Things ago awry and Emily dies while under their care.
However, as if the guilt of the failed exorcism wasn’t enough, charges of homicidal neglect are brought against Father Moore with a hotshot prosecutor named Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) at the helm. These charges hold the priest as the one responsible for Emily’s death due to his own neglect. The archdiocese hires a renowned defense attorney named Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) to defend Father Moore in court; even though Erin is an agnostic and doesn‘t share the same beliefs Father Moore does. As the trial unfolds, questions about Faith, religion, science, possession and the ritual of exorcism itself arise; as well as the existence of God and the devil...
Part horror film and part courtroom drama; the way the movie is structured isn’t your conventional horror movie that it may potentially alienate those looking for cheap ‘jump scares’ and the usual mechanics of a typical scare fest. What director Derrickson does quite well is the manner that the details of Emily’s death come into fruition. The film is unique in its own right, the tension comes from the drama which is unfolding rather than possession of Emily herself. It is quite an intelligent rendering of a court thriller as we see the character of Erin Bruner scrambling to find facts to counter the scientific approach by her opponent in court. As such, the movie goes into several scenes of flashbacks that also provides the film’s creepy and unnerving sequences.
The characters in “Emily Rose” are also the film’s main aces. Erin Bruner is an agnostic and Ethan Thomas is a proclaimed man of faith. They have opposing beliefs but they find themselves in the respective sides that represent their opposing beliefs. Both find themselves struggling to invalidate the other while both finding a sort of answer to their questions. Erin Bruner (marvelously played by Laura Linney) may be agnostic before she took this case but there was a strong hint that she wasn’t any more after. Ethan Thomas (actually he’s only a secondary lead) is the type of so-proclaimed ‘man of faith’ who says they are a religious man yet, they deny the presence of evil and the possibility of possession. Campbell Scott was quite nasty in the film and his character may be seen as the villain. The film sorts of presents an opposing parallels in the case as well as presenting a theme of science and religion. Father Richard Moore is the victim of the situation almost as much as Emily. The man represents the steadiness and standing for one’s belief. I loved the way the film manages to pull the viewer into the case itself; as the case unfolds, I was also left to think alongside the lawyers instead of just forcing the results onto our faces while we witness the evolution of the characters.
I believe I’ve justified the film’s strength as a courtroom drama so what about the exorcism scenes? Most of the film’s creepy imagery happen via flashbacks and they were very effective as being partly narrated by some of the characters. This is also where parts of Emily’s ordeal are brought into exposition and they are creepy, scary and very intense. Jennifer Carpenter manages to bring credibility to her role; it was amazing as to how she could contort her body in manners I would never have believed possible. True, the scenes were aided somewhat by CGI, but it makes them no less effective. The sound designs and the atmosphere just exudes pure terror and the way the film punctuates the scenes just makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The film’s main highlight would be when the six demons identifies themselves (it is also true to the actual true event). There is just nothing more scary than a horror movie with true facts behind it.
The script by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman does convey the necessary mood; although it does have some missteps. I doubt that a priest with Moore’s character would say “The game is on” and some parts of the screenplay were a little too conventional and formulaic; such as the fate of the psychiatrist, Dr. Cartwright (Duncan Fraser) and the locket found by Bruner with the initials “ECB“. In the real story, this doctor (Dr. Richard Roth) actually testified in the trial as saying “there is no injection for the devil, Anneliese”. Despite some things that strayed from the real story, the film manages to keep its forward momentum.
Hollywood horror has taken a major downturn the past 10 years; one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to say that there were only a very small number of great American horror films this decade and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” stands as one of them. Those who are looking for cheap scares and a fast-paced approach may not appreciate this film since it keeps its focus on the courtroom scenes (the unrated edition restores 3 minutes more of legal footage) but it is still an intelligent film that provokes some reaction from its audience and perhaps would make them look at their own beliefs. The German movie “Requiem” provides more background to the real person that inspired this movie and it would prove to be a nice companion film to Scott Derrickson’s rendition.
“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” deserves every bit of success it has reaped thus far. It is an unnerving creepy film that has the odd mixture of courtroom drama and demonic possession; and considering the fact that it is based on a true event (or very close to it), it just makes it more compelling and thought-provoking.
I don't scare easily. When I was thirteen, I would walk to the video store right after it got dark and I would rent a few scary movies. Then, I would go into my bedroom, turn off the lights and watch them by myself. For the most part, my imagination can conjure up scarier things than anyone has put in movie or book. I must admit though that The Exorcism of Emily Rosefreaked the crap out of me! I know that part of that is because it is a true story. I know that demons can possess a person and to … more
Pros: Jennifer Carpenters stellar and haunting performance. Cons: Should have explored the central theme a little more. The Bottom Line: The movie does make one think; at least it made me think and watch shadows in the dark. Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. I am a self avowed spiritual agnostic, but occasionally some human drama unfolds that makes me rethinkhowever minutemy … more
With eerie atmosphere that sticks with you throughout its duration, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is a compelling and well-drawn tale of horror and courtroom drama. In it, Laura Linney plays Erin Bruner, an aggressive (and agnostic) junior partner at her law firm who jumps at the chance to defend a Catholic priest in a negligent homicide case. She has a track record of "getting off" guilty parties and she also wants to make senior partner. With a high profile case like this, she'd be a fool to pass … more
The timing of this film could not be more propitious as the courts struggle with Darwinism, Creationism, and separation of church and state, creating embittered conversations about fact versus faith. The fact that this film adaptation of an actual event results in a work of such touching tenderness is due to the imagination and artistry of writer Paul Harris Boardman and co-writer and director Scott Derrickson, as well as a fine cast of some of our best actors. This is not a horror flick: this is … more
thematic material, including intense/frightening sequences and disturbing images
A 19-year-old girl is officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as possessed. A priest is put on trial after the girl dies. A bitter lawyer agrees to be his defense attorney and during the course of the trial, re-evaluates her life. The story is told in flashbacks that chronicle the girl's battle with what she believes to be possession juxtaposed with the court proceedings.