Exorcism of Emily Rose, The (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is being sold as the latest PG-13 horror movie, albeit one that deals with demonic possession instead of ghosts. In reality, however, it's a courtroom drama with a twinge of the supernatural (most of which occurs during flash-backs). Those expecting to be scared by this movie will be disappointed. Aside from the occasional "boo!" moment, the film lacks anything to stand nape hairs on end, and the trail - which occupies a majority of the overlong 113 minute running length - is unremarkable, despite some nice performances.

Sony should be ashamed for pandering to The Ring crowd with this motion picture. Although some elements are lifted from The Exorcist, the term "horror movie" doesn't really apply. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a courtroom procedural which investigates whether Emily's condition was spiritual (possession) or medical (epilepsy and schizophrenia). We get all of the standard stuff that's expected from trial-related dramas, including surprising revelations, emotional testimony, and a stirring closing argument from the attorney for the defense. What we don't get is anything that horror fans will find involving.

The film has been labeled with another of those "based on a true story" tags, which means there are some facts sprinkled into Paul Harris Boardman and director Scott Derrickson's screenplay. It's best to view The Exorcism of Emily Rose as a fiction; that way, there's no need to worry about what's real and what is invented. The true-life trial was one of medicine versus religion, but a lot of embellishment has occurred to make the screenplay appealing to a mainstream audience. And, by adapting the "spiritual" point-of-view (in other words, accepting that demons exist), Derrickson allows his film to incorporate some supernatural elements. Otherwise, it would likely have been too dry for any studio to greenlight.

Whatever flaws The Exorcism of Emily Rose may have, acting isn't among them. Laura Linney is credible as Erin Bruner, a hotshot defense lawyer who is brought in to defend a priest charged with "negligent homicide" in the death of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), a 19-year old girl who died following a failed exorcism. Tom Wilkinson, sporting a letter-perfect American accent, brings depth and humanity to the part of Father Moore. The priest doesn't care whether he goes to jail for taking what he believes to be the correct path. The Church wants Moore to accept the plea bargain being offered by the prosecution, but his goal is to take the stand so that he can tell the story of Emily Rose. Campbell Scott is thoroughly dislikeable as the prosecutor - but that's pretty much how prosecutors are supposed to be in movies where the filmmakers accept the defense's perspective.

Most of the demon possession scenes occur in flashback, and Jennifer Carptenter is required to do her best imitation of Linda Blair (without pea soup projectile vomit or 360-degree head twisting). She makes strange sounds, scratches the walls, displays amazing double-jointedness, and gains unusual eye coloring. The only non-flashback creepiness occurs when Erin wakes up a few times at 3:00 in the morning and thinks that someone may be in her apartment. (3:00, we are later told, is the "witching hour" - the time when the forces of evil are the strongest.)

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is entertaining to the same degree as any courtroom drama of limited imagination can be. The supernatural elements add some flavor to the mix, but should not be the reason to see the film. For what it is, the film does its job, but it's probably better to wait for the DVD release. This is small-screen material getting a big-screen treatment. Take away the performances, and all that would be left is a cheapish B-grade motion picture.

Exorcism of Emily Rose, The (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:53
U.S. Release Date: 2005-09-09
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1