THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE
*** (out of 5)
September 9, 2005
Laura Linney as ERIN BRUNER
Tom Wilkinson as FATHER MOORE
Campbell Scott as ETHAN THOMAS
Jennifer Carpenter as EMILY ROSE
Colm Feore as KARL GUNDERSON
Joshua Close as JASON
Studio: Screen Gems
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Who doesn’t like a movie about a demon possessing a sweet, naive girl? Come on, it’s a classic.
But the problem is that there hasn’t been a decent demon possession movie since the penultimate classic “The Exorcist” more than thirty years ago. That doesn’t mean Hollywood hasn’t tried. Even their own sequels to this franchise have ran the schlocky gamut from the ridiculous (“Exorcist II: The Heretic”) to the downright painful (“Exorcist: The Beginning”).
Taken strictly as a demon possession movie, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is actually pretty good. The scenes of the possession are downright creepy and give the original “Exorcist” a run for its money. A lot of this is due to the total acting commitment of Jennifer Carpenter, who plays the title role. She is easily the best thing in this movie, providing an intensity consistent throughout the film and completely believable.
However, the problem with this movie is that it is actually possessed itself. It’s possessed by an overrated actress and a burning desire to be a courtroom drama. Like most cases of possession, these demons emerge periodically and taint an otherwise pure story.
Contrary to what you might think from the title of the movie, the story really isn’t about Emily Rose. Heck, it isn’t even about the priest who is on trial for her murder. The story is really about Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), the lawyer defending the case. And that’s where the movie comes apart.
The film loosely tells the true story of a girl who was given the rite of exorcism in the early 1970s. The actual girl was German, and the facts surrounding the case vary greatly from what you’ll see on screen. If you’re interested in going to the original source, search the Internet for “Anneliese Michel,” which is the name of the real girl.
Needless to say, the exorcism failed, and the girl ended up dying. Her parents and the priest assigned to her were tried for negligent homicide. The bulk of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” covers the trial.
Here’s where the filmmakers screwed up. When it came to the exorcism and spiritual moments, they went for realism and believability. It isn’t your typical Hollywood version of demons and monsters. Most of these events are told in flashbacks during the trial. However, whenever we cut back to the courtroom – which is far too often – the movie turns into a “Law and Order” episode.
There’s no realism or authenticity even attempted in the courtroom. Like monkeys in the zoo throwing feces at the visitors, the director flings every courtroom cliche at us. We have the arrogant, proselytizing prosecutor. We have the conspiracy surrounding the star witness. We have the last-minute evidence admitted into court on the morning of questioning. And, of course, we have the grumpy, politically correct judge who constantly warns the lawyers to not step over the line.
To make matters worse, I didn’t give a hoot about the character of Erin Bruner. Yet, because Laura Linney is a undeservedly critically-acclaimed actress and won’t do a movie without having that dramatic character arc, the film focused on her instead of the secondary characters. Yet, these characters are actually the reason most people will pay to see this movie.
Some films fail because they only go half-way. This film would have been almost perfect if it would have just stopped there.