THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE
"This case isn't about facts! It's about possibilities!"
This line from the film, delivered in a courtroom no less, aptly describes the movie itself.* The movie begins with the death of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter: LETHAL EVICTION) and the arrest of Catholic Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson: THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS, SMILLA'S SENSE OF SNOW, BATMAN BEGINS). The state attorney's office, worried about appearances, chooses their toughest prosecutor, Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott: AIN'T NO WAY BACK, DEAD AGAIN, THE SPANISH PRISONER), because he's a devout Christian man.
The Archdiocese of the Catholic church, however, just wants a winning lawyer and, through her law firm, hires Erin Bruner (Laura Linney: CONGO, PRIMAL FEAR, ABSOLUTE POWER, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE, MYSTIC RIVER).
Erin is not religious and refers to herself as an agnostic. Her claim to fame was the unbelievable win for her last client, who almost certainly was a murderer. Even Erin seems to think so. The church wants her, in all likelihood, because they doubt the innocence of Father Moore. This seems even more likely when the church itself demands that Father Moore not be allowed to testify and asks that he quietly accepts a plea agreement. Erin doesn't want the case but makes a deal that, if she wins it, then she gets the long withheld and oh-so-valuable "Partnership" in the firm: the Holy Grail McGuffin of many a court room drama.
When Erin visits Father Moore in his holding cell, she finds that he won't accept any pleas from the prosecutor's office. What's more, he wants to testify. Why? "Because Emily's story must be told."
So everything is set into place for one powerful movie, right?
Truthfully told, Director and co-writer, Scott Derrickson (HELLRAISER: INFERNO, URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT, GHOSTING) does a fine job of directing. The movie has high production values, clear sound, nice camera work, and largely gives the audience the view we should have when watching a movie. There are a few handheld jiggy moments that are supposed to, but never, convey a sense of urgency, but these moments are rare.
The acting is also well done as would be expected from such a fine cast.
The movie falls utterly apart in the story and special effects.
For one thing, though Father Moore is supposed to be the sympathetic character here (not, surprisingly, Emily). Yet the people whose lives he's touched are mental wrecks, devastated by life and the terrors that Father Moore has convinced them, exist.
Emily Rose's whole family are shell shocked to every last person. Emily's friend/boyfriend is stunned to quiet reflection and emotionally crippled by what Father Moore told him about Emily. Even an old member of Father Moore's church, a timid, twitchy man named Dr. Cartwright (Duncan Fraser: THE FLY II, OMEN IV), walks around as an emotional cripple. It seems there is no one in Father Moore's sphere who's life hasn't been in some way twisted by his touch.
And then, of course, there is Emily Rose.
The entire case revolves around the fact that, when Emily first started having her fits, she was diagnosed with epilepsy and was put on medication that treated her affliction. Being a young college girl, however, she didn't stay on her medication and the attacks returned. Worse, she began having psychotic episodes where she saw people turning into demons. While rare, some extreme cases of epilepsy can result in hallucinations, and Emily was a member of Father Moore's church.
A second, more in-depth examination confirms the original diagnosis, Emily has epilepsy. So Emily ran off to her home, where her family contacted Father Moore and he, in turn, told Emily to stop taking the medication because she was possessed by demons.
To verify his theory, he invited the shaky Dr. Cartwright, another member of his church, to watch an exorcism. Dr. Cartwright was terrified by the event and convinced of possession. Then he ran away. A short time later, Emily died.
Father Moore is accused of Negligent Homicide and the case against him is so tight that even the fast rising hot lawyer, Erin Bruner, is out of her depth. The old guard of her law firm coming down on her and wanting her to settle and threatening her and so on come into play with some truly awful dialog.
Worse, Father Moore starts working his delusions on Erin, telling her that dark forces are working against her. Dark forces want her to lose this case.
Satan himself might even file a brief!
Erin is, of course, keeping very late hours as she studies the case, studies the witnesses, studies exorcism even, trying to find a way to get a break. With loads of pressure, a newfound drinking problem, and weeks of very little sleep, Erin starts buying into Moore's magic.
And yet, the movie makes these people the good guys!
Father Moore is painted as the sacrificial lamb. Erin the stalwart lawyer: who fights against the church and her own law firm to represent her client.
The doctors who tried to save Emily's life are painted as overconfident smug suits. At one point, Erin even brings in a woman named Dr. Adani, who has degrees from prestigious universities in mysticism and the occult (Prestigious???).
With no admitted knowledge of who or what she is talking about, the Doctor starts accusing the very drugs that the University doctor's prescribed, the drugs that the movie already makes clear that Emily didn't take properly, as exacerbating the demonic possession. The prosecutor, though finding the doctor's testimony incredulous, also finds that the judge is heavily sympathetic to Father Moore (for what possible reason?!?) and is willing to let Erin bring in pretty much anything she wants to shore up her case.
And yet, with all of these contradictions, director/co-writer, Scott Derrickson tries to pass this off as an "Intelligent Horror" movie. The last few times Hollywood tried to hand audiences their dimwit idea of "Intelligent Horror", it was IDENTITY, GOTHIKA, and WHITE NOISE. These pass muster for intelligent in Hollywood. They are box office poison everywhere else. But hey, the rest of the country can't be expected to be Hollywood smart. Not that anyone ever said, "Smart like a studio boss!"
The special effects are awful. Even though the shots only last a second, on the big screen they could only look more fake and cheap if they were sock puppets. The loud sting of sound effects while viewing the CGI helps to shock at first, but only at first. And if you saw the trailer, you saw every scary scene in the movie.
On the plus side, actor Tom Wilkenson plays Father Moore as sympathetic and sincere, but despite the script and dialog, Moore is clearly delusional, possibly evil and manipulative, and is capable of convincing other people, in their moments of exhaustion and weakness, into believing his delusions. In short, he's lethally dangerous.
Jennifer Carpenter plays Emily Rose as a terrified woman child seeing demons at every turn. And that's pretty much all she does: scream her head off in nearly every scene. It's very good screaming, she has excellent body contortions, but she remains a cypher throughout the film. There is no real background on Emily before she became afflicted.
Laura Linney plays Erin Bruner as an immoral, but intelligent canny lawyer. Yet in spite of the direction, Bruner is clearly off the rails as she tells the jury to ignore the facts and consider the possibilities.
The hell? Ignore what ACTUALLY happened? Pretend that what didn't happen could have POSSIBLY happened?
Yet STILL I sat through all of this waiting to hear Father Moore's story about Emily. Because that's what this movie is building up to.
Hoo boy! I bet when I hear Emily's story (as told by Father Moore) I am just going to shit! That is, after all, what this movie is about: What really happened to Emily just before she died.
Alack a day!
The revelation is an anticlimactic puff even in a film like this. The "Horror" never comes. THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE arrives out of fuel and coasts into the station.
This is not even horror. It's merely a well-directed, well-acted, empty courtroom drama in cheap clothing.
Two Shriek Girls
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