The Exorcism of Emily Rose
If the heated box office battle surrounding “The Last Exorcism” showed us anything, it’s that exorcist movies in general are hit-and-miss. The hard truth is that four generations later, no amount of CGI can beat Linda Blair and a little pea soup. But not even William Fredkin’s horror masterpiece is exempt from the horror franchise curse, having long since spawned dozens of forgettable successors, including sequels, prequels and imitators galore. Often times, the best way to stand out is to subtly change the product instead of trying to re-invent the wheel entirely – which is exactly what “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” does by bringing the conflict between man and devil from the church to the court room.
The death of college student Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) during an exorcism triggers a legal conundrum agnostic lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) must reluctantly unravel. She must defend Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), who performed the ill-fated exorcism, from charges that Moore neglected Emily’s health during the process. Father Moore is determined to tell Emily’s story in spite of any legal consequences, marking Erin’s job as attorney all the more difficult. And if that weren’t enough, both Erin and Father Moore find themselves the target of dark, invisible forces as they slowly peel the layers of Emily’s story, bringing both of them closer to a spiritual trial of their own.
In many ways, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is a movie cut straight down the middle between the exorcism and the court room. Because of this risky set-up, the scares come far less frequent than most by-the-number horror flicks, but when they do, they come with cringe-inducing efficiency. Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter not only captures the awkward innocence of Emily Rose, but also adds an unnatural contortionist edge to her demonic episodes, As for the rest of the cast, Linney boldly embodies the legal champion of both Rose and Moore, while Wilkinson’s calm yet commanding performance as Moore binds the two story lines together. Campbell Scott of “Royal Pains” is also noteworthy as an insolent and downright obnoxious prosecutor.
As good as this movie is, it isn’t for everyone. I remember watching the film with a younger audience bored to tears by the court room. Truth be told, the legal aspect of “Emily Rose” works about as well as an episode of “The Practice.” While the setting keeps the plot moving and gives considerable screen time to Linney, Wilkinson and Scott, some parts of the trial – like an attempt to explain exorcism with pseudo-science – falls flat on its face. The real meat is in the actual story of Emily Rose and the relationship between Erin and Father Moore. The courtroom creates complications which inform this relationship, but never does much else. Still, the devil is very much in the details, as the bulk of “Emily Rose” succeeds in its subtle, real world approach to spiritual warfare – and just how much credence “the devil made me do it” might have in such a case.