The Exorcism of Emily Rose


Rating 2

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Written by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman

Starring Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Jennifer Carpenter, Mary Beth Hurt and Shohreh Aghdashlo

Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) dies shortly after she is the subject of an exorcism conducted by Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), her Catholic priest. Father Richard is charged with negligent homicide and Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), an ambitious and successful criminal attorney, is appointed to defend him. The prosecution appears to have a watertight case, presenting expert evidence that Emily was suffering from both epilepsy and psychosis, but Bruner sets out to try to prove that she genuinely was possessed by demons and evil spirits.

‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ is based on the true story of a 23-year-old German woman called Anneliese Michel who died in 1976 following an exorcism that had been authorised by the Roman Catholic Church, a position it later reversed. Her parents and the two priests who performed the exorcism were convicted of negligent homicide.

The film centres on the trial of Father Richard, with flashbacks to Emily, showing her decline during various stages of her illness/possession. It is part courtroom drama and part demonic-possession horror, but the two do not mix especially well and the film never quite seems to decide what it wants to be. I suspect it would have worked better as a courtroom drama about the death of a physically and mentally ill young women who believed herself to be possessed, without quite as many of the overt “Exorcist”-style horror trimmings, but allowing us enough doubt to wonder if there was any truth in what she and the priest believed.

As it is, the film never quite manages to get the balance right and it constantly veers from one thing to the other, before eventually going completely over the top and disintegrating in a haze of quasi-religious gibberish. The problem with this is that it becomes disjointed, the courtroom scenes lacking suspense as they become increasingly silly and hammy.

The film is helped by decent performances, for example those given by routinely reliable actors like Laura Linney and Campbell Scott (the son of George C Scott), despite some cringe-worthy dialogue during the courtroom scenes. Jennifer Carpenter excels in her breakthrough role before going onto the critically acclaimed television series ‘Dexter’. Carpenter achieved the extreme contortions to Emily’s body without the use of visual effects. Tom Wilkinson is an excellent actor, although I cannot help but think he is not perfectly cast here. Perhaps it would have helped if he had dropped the strange “American” accent. The main problem, though, is that although Father Richard is supposed to have deep rooted religious convictions and be absolutely convinced that what he did was right, Wilkinson’s performance does not entirely lend itself to the idea that he has any real religious belief.

‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ is a decent if slightly tedious film that never quite demanded my full attention. It ultimately fails largely because of the offensively improbable and contrived conclusion to the courtroom scenes, which manages to negate anything good about the film that has come before it.

The film has a 45% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 150 reviews, critics being divided down the middle about it merits. It grossed a little over $144 million at the box office against a production budget of $19 million. The film’s director and co-writer Scott Derrickson subsequently directed the 2008 remake of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’.

The 2006 German film ‘Requiem’ is also based on the events surrounding the death of Anneliese Michel.


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