Believe in it or not, the concept of being possessed and needing some sort of holy man drive whatever all fiction has taken hold of your being is a pretty bizarre and terrifying. When The Exorcist was released in 1973, people were blown through the theatre walls and it was called one of, if not, the scariest films ever made. Now, it’s pretty much a guarantee that we will see an exorcism movie at least once a year. They have become a dime a dozen. In 2005, when The Exorcism of Emily Rose was released, this wasn’t yet the case, making this movie an original and surprisingly dramatic piece of film making about innocence, morality, and personal beliefs.
Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is charged with criminal negligence in the death of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), a nineteen year old girl believed to have been possessed and put under the care of Father Moore. Defending him is a rising star lawyer, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), who is an agnostic who is only taking the job to get her name on the law firm and establish herself as an accomplished defense lawyer. Through a series of flashbacks and witness recounts, the story of Emily Rose is slowly put together, and Bruner’s beliefs are tested when what she thought was real melts away with this supernatural possibilities taking over her life.
The first thing that really sticks out about The Exorcism of Emily Rose is the depth that this story is willing to go. The focal point of the story could have easily been the exorcism itself, and filled with really crazy exorcism scenes which would have helped in selling tickets and surging the audience’s adrenaline. Instead, Scott Derrikson chose to take a more dramatic approach which really forces the audiences to think about their own beliefs and open their minds up to greater possibilities than what they really think is true. The same thing can sort of be said about The Last Exorcism, but that movie got to be so overblown by the end, I wasn’t really doing any introspection.
Still though, the scenes that did show Emily Rose and her possession were top notch horror. Jennifer Carpenter gives an absolutely outstanding performance both vocally and physically. A lot of the vocals are created in post production with audio layering, but when she contorts her body in all the crazy positions that we see, it’s just her. Even something as simple as a hand gesture is stiffened and gives off this really creepy vibe that is necessary in movies like this. These scenes are also very important in ensuring that the more drama oriented court room scenes have some points of reference and really balance out the movie.
The scenes in the courtroom are also really good, but do suffer from some heavy handed dialogue and some acting that is just a little off from some of the more minor characters. Even some of the main characters like Bruner and Father Moore have some over the top dialogue that wouldn’t have worked if the actors saying them weren’t as serious and into their roles like Linney and Wilkinson. Hearing them sometimes would pull me out of the movie and make me think, “no one would actually say that.” What is cool about these scenes is that they don’t fall into pits of cliches and the proceedings can be pretty unpredictable. The ending is so unpredictable that I still don’t really buy it, and it would have been better for the writers to stick a bit closer to the actual history.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose wasn’t so much an entertaining movie as it was an intellectually engaging one. That seems sort of odd to say about a movie that is about an exorcism, but again, this was before the time that one was pretty much release every year. It’s more than just a courtroom drama and an exorcism movie. It’s a clever combination of the two that will force the viewer to look inside themselves and see what they actually believe. Any movie that can shake someone up so much has to be good, and that’s what this movie is. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a genuinely good movie.