Just for posterity.
Exorcism. It screams at us from the posters, the trailers and even when whispered to us. That word single-handedly propelled this films entire marketing campaign as it gave us flashbacks to William Friedkins 1973 masterpiece, The Exorcist. Not since then has anyone attempted a legitimate claim to reignite this contentious style of psychological horror rooted in theology and faith. Last years Exorcist: The Beginning fell short as it became a farce to the already abused legacy of Friedkins original.
Realising the unmilked potential that lies beneath the mysticism of spiritual possession and its appeal to sceptics and believers, movie executives have come up with The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is charged with negligent homicide after an unsuccessful exorcism on Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) led to the 19-year-olds death. His defense attorney, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is a career-driven, self-proclaimed agnostic who needs to play down the media hysteria over this case to secure a senior position in her law firm. As she delves further into the case, however, she starts to doubt her own beliefs and begins to fear what she never thought could exist. The films antagonist, Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), is the religiously devout district attorney, adamant that mental illness was the sole reason for Emilys erratic behaviour in the weeks leading to her death. He is also convinced that the cause of her demise was brought about by Father Moores role in discontinuing Emilys medication.
Jennifer Carpenter, whose most notable role before this film was in White Chicks as a spoilt rich girl, gives the strongest performance of the cast as the nave young college freshman attacked by malevolent forces. She later transforms into a frenetically possessed girl tortured by something nobody is able to comprehend. The 180-degree turnaround playing the films titular character has even earned her a compliment from her accomplished co-star, Linney, who calls her the finest young actress that she's ever known in publicity interviews given shortly after the films release in the United States.
Billed as the first courtroom horror film by its director, Scott Derrickson, it certainly provides an interesting take on religion, the judicial system and psychology. Derricksons storytelling is convoluted at points as it switches between the past (through flashbacks of Emilys possession and eventual death) and the present courtroom conflict.
Due to its narrative nature, the film constantly finds itself in 2 minds. From the first impressions of its Oscar-nominated cast of Linney and Wilkinson, its easy to see that the movie wants the viewer to take it seriously. Throwing in dashes of current social commentary such as the legality of the Churchs doctrines as a plausible defense without bordering on religious persecution is aptly highlighted during the current climate of polemicising over the governments role in religion. Unfortunately, it offers more questions than answers for these contemporary matters.
However, the version we saw in the trailers is the archetypal summer horror blockbuster that uses cheap shocks and clichd scare tactics like cryptic clocks, loud screeching wails when cutting to ghoul-faced shots, and sourceless winds blowing doors wide open. Subplots, such as Father Moores and Erins own uninspired haunting by these evil spirits as they work on the case, are scattered throughout the film. Regrettably, the film falls into temptation by using such schtick to get its point across as the danger in combining 2 different genres together with 2 different pacing leads to a classic case of doing too much with too little time.
The failure to give more insight into the main characters also cheapens the roles as we never fully understand Erins own initial prejudice against spirituality or even Emily Roses religious convictions as she is dragged into becoming the new Joan of Arc.
A series of dichotomous motifs are presented in the film, such as Good vs. Evil, Law vs. Religion, Sceptics vs. Believers etc. Given the wealth of material in which the film could have chosen to make a stand, it manages to completely disregard them in its conclusion by short-changing itself and the viewers. In hoping to please everybody, it ends up satisfying no one.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose cant be called a bad film by any means. In many aspects, it is a solid movie; with good acting throughout, and with enough restraint to prevent it from going over the top. Hardly reaching the pinnacles of The Exorcist, its true story label seems to have been stuck on to achieve some sense of credibility.
It is however, a welcome addition to a horror market thats flooded with mediocre Japanese and Korean movies and predictable Hollywood fare. When not taken seriously, it will entertain you enough for the night but those hoping to be perplexed by its spiritual connotations will have to wait for a worthy successor to The Exorcist.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars