If you’ve seen the trailer for the Exorcism of Emily Rose, look no further. Based on the same true story that the 1973 William Friedkin’s The Exorcist portrays, Scott Derrickson takes a genuinely terrifying tale of the Catholic Church recognized demonic possession of a 19-year-old-girl, and ruins it by making it the background to an over dramatized, terribly scripted, murder case concerning the priest who oversaw the exorcism itself.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is not the disturbingly frightening horror film that it purports to be in the trailer. The clips of the screaming, Aramaic-spurting, devil-ridden Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) are only used in the film as flashbacks and parts of testimony that witnesses disclose. The rest of the film is a painfully unimaginative, stereotypical trial scene filled with soap opera-esque, monosyllabic dialogue.
The film opens with the character development of Erin Bruner (Laura Linney). She’s a tough, unemotional, cut-to-the-chase lawyer who will do whatever it takes to get to the top. She isn’t interested in the client or her case, or telling Emily’s tale. Shots of her up late at night, drinking a glass of wine in her pajamas while looking over papers for the case, something that’s in almost every other murder-mystery or episode of The Practice, is about all the film shows of her as a person other than a lawyer.
Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is the emotionally scarred, devout Catholic priest who only wants to tell “what really happened to Emily.” Although the role is acted well by Wilkinson, the lines he is given make him look senile and insane, making it difficult for the audience to sympathize with him. The classic lawyer-meets-criminal-in-a-jail-cell scene is botched by sloppy dialogue that made the audience laugh out loud. Father Moore questions Bruner’s religious beliefs, and she confesses that she is an agnostic, dubious of any religious or spiritual elements in this life. He then warns her of the “dark forces” surrounding the case, and this admonishment, on top of some eerie events that occur in her bedroom, make her slowly change her mind.
This is perhaps where the film is at its lowest. The main plot of the trial and the tale of Emily’s possession is paralleled by a ridiculous subplot of the demons haunting Erin Bruner in her sleep. Not only do these episodes fail to be scary, aside from the unexpected loud noise and the creepy orchestral buildup score, but they are completely irrelevant and out of place. These sequences only go to show that demons that possess an innocent girl apparently also hate court cases, and will do anything in their power to spook the lawyer that dared to get involved.
Nevertheless, the film does have some good points to it. The scenes involving Emily, though few and far between, definitely do their job at capturing the petrifying parts of possession that The Exorcist touched on. If all of these moments weren’t already in the trailer, I would have been much more taken aback. Carpenter certainly does a great job contorting her face and body in spooky ways. The scariest part to me, sadly enough, is the photograph of her dead, maimed face that hangs in the courtroom throughout most of the film.
Other than that, the majority of the movie is a basic religion vs. science battle between Bruner and the sarcastic, mustached “villain” role lawyer who insists that medicine would have cured Emily immediately.
If you’re looking for a typical scary movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is not for you, or perhaps any one. With protagonists that you can’t root for and dialogue that is scarier than Carpenter’s facial expressions, it isn’t all that surprising that Derrickson’s only other claim to fame is the straight-to-video Hellraiser: Inferno. I’d stick with The Exorcist instead.
Archived article by Rachelle Rubinow