As children, we all thought about things living in our closet, underneath the bed, or in the basement. Dark, scary things that made us jump into bed, calling for our parents when things became too much to bear. As we got
older, creaks in the stairs late at night gave us the chills, and we called out to friends or told ourselves that it wasn’t anything but a sure sign of shoddy home craftsmanship. But are those things signs of the devil among us? Or
incidences easily explained by science and architecture? The Exorcism of Emily Rose shows us how perception, and perhaps faith, can temper circumstances, making anything possible.
More Inherit the Wind than The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose takes a look at exorcism through the eyes of the court, as a priest, Father
Moore, is brought up on charges of criminal negligence in the death of Emily Rose, a 19-year-old girl who had undergone an exorcism in the hopes of curing demonic possession. The story follows defense attorney Erin Bruner (played with astonishing believability by Laura Linney), a self-admitted agnostic whose initial interest in making senior partner by winning this case becomes more personal as she researches the facts and possibilities
of Father Moore’s story.
In many ways this film mirrors the psychological thriller/horror classic Curse
of the Demon; strange events happen which could be explained by science or
the supernatural. In an almost Rashomon style of storytelling, each side
explains what could have happened, and their narrative is used as a backdrop
as Emily Rose “acts out” the possibilities. You’re left to draw your own
conclusions as each scene wraps. And at the end of it all? Well, I’ll just say
that it was refreshing to watch a scary movie that didn’t end up with a sudden,
overdone “gotcha” moment.
The actors involved in the exorcism story directly have the task of performing
in what seems like two different movies, a straight-on horror fest and a
courtroom drama right out of “Law and Order.” They do it well; the horror is
just shy of being over-the-top, and the courtroom sequences are intriguing
enough to keep the interest level high. Except for those just looking for scare
after scare – those viewers I direct to the latest slash-fest – this film entertains
without overkill, spooky, yet with a plot clever enough to stand even without
the horror trappings. I’d go so far as to say this is an excellent example of a
horror movie for people who don’t normally like horror movies. Hope I didn’t
turn off the genre buffs out there, because the exorcism sequences, from the
script to the special effects, are startling to say the least. The acting chops of
relative newcomer Jennifer Carpenter have a lot to do with that.
Was Emily Rose truly possessed? Or was she a small-town girl with a
heartbreaking medical condition who turned to her most trusted source for
help? Do folk beliefs hold a real hope for some individuals outside of medical
science? Or did Emily Rose suffer a tortuous end that could have been
prevented? Since I don’t have a direct line to any other alternate plane of
existence, I’ll leave myself open to reasonable doubt. All I can say is that the
defense’s closing argument is a topic worth bringing up the next time you’re
sitting around with your friends trying to come up with something meaty to
discuss. What would your faith, wherever and however it is placed, lead you
to believe? That’s the real thrill of The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
NOTE: As with many horror films, this one touts the “based on a true story” label. In
this case, the label applies. This story is loosely based on the 1976 death and
possible possession of Anneliese Michel, a German girl who believed herself possessed by demons.
(Lakeshore Entertainment, 2005)