© 2005 Ray Wong
Stars: Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Jennifer Carpenter, Colm Feore, Joshua Close
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson (based on a true story)
Distributor: Screen Gems
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences, disturbing images
Running time: 114 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 7
Total Score – 7.6 out of 10
Billed as horror/thriller, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE is really a courtroom drama at its core. It’s a case of faith, and whether or not you believe in angels and demons, this film asks a lot of good questions: “What exactly do we believe?”
Fresh off from winning a murder case, Erin Bruner (Linney) is an ambitious lawyer, a rising star in her firm, hungry for opportunities and eager to become partner. Her publicity leads her to the case of Emily Rose. The Diocese wants her to defend Father Moore (Wilkinson), a parishioner accused of homicidal negligence, responsible for the death of 19-year-old Emily Rose (Carpenter).
Father Moore is not afraid to go to jail and he will not accept a plea bargain. He just wants the world to hear Emily’s story. Erin, on the other hand, is determined to win, but she has doubts. An agnostic herself, she is skeptical at best about demons and exorcism, and the medical case against Father Moore is very strong. Prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Scott) is himself a God-loving man, and he’s determined to prove Moore’s guilt.
As the trial proceeds, Erin feels a grave presence surrounding her, and heaviness in her conscience. Father Moore warns her of dark forces that are set to attack her. She decides to forge ahead and, despite the Diocese’s objection and the risk of losing her job, allow Father Moore to testify and tell Emily’s horrific story.
Linney (KINSEY) is in top form. She’s beautiful, smart, and genuine. She looks and acts the part and her range of emotions is very impressive. Her characterization is one reason why the film works so well, because we have a worthy heroine to root for. Wilkinson (BATMAN BEGINS) is equally impressive as Father Moore. His quiet resolution, concerns, and vulnerability give the character such depth and weight. Scott (DUMA) is good and effective as Thomas; however, the script and his characterization don’t allow us to know more about him. His character is somewhat two-dimensional. Carpenter (WHITE CHICKS) is fascinating and haunting as Emily Rose. Her angelic innocence is a stark contrast to her traumatized, tortured, possessed self. Her scenes are riveting. The rest of the cast does a fine job as well, even though their roles are minor and somewhat two-dimensional as well.
Writer-director Derrickson (HELLRAISER) has crafted a unique genre of horror/thriller with this film. A courtroom drama at the core, EMILY ROSE has its horrific, intense moments. It also has an overpowering religious theme. While the film doesn’t endorse one view or another, it does leave you thinking about faith. As Erin said: “Are there angels and demons? I don’t know. But there’s the possibility.” In a way, Derrickson has grown up from his deep horror root and given us something more adult and thought-provoking.
The script is generally tight and the dialogue smooth. Based on a true story, the plot has certain authenticity to it, even though the subject matter is improbable. Thus lies the central dilemma – what do we believe? Science and facts, or the supernatural and faith? The story unfolds both in real-time and flashback, and the structure is very effective. Special effects are kept to the minimal, serving the story appropriately without overpowering the film. It would have been nice to see more interaction between Bruner and Thomas, to get a fuller point of view from both sides. As it is, the film is clearly sympathetic of Father Moore’s side of the story. That gives the film a slight bias, perhaps even spiritual and religious in nature. That might not bode well with those who do not subscribe to the Christian faith, or any faith at all.
However, as a movie, EMILY ROSE is a fine production, with strong storytelling, themes and central characters. It has drama, horror and thrills, all done with great balance. Derrickson has stated that this may be the first courtroom horror film ever. Whether it’s true or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is, this is one of the best horror-dramas of the year. If this movie does well in the box office (I suspect that it would), it may take an act of exorcism to prevent filmmakers from making more in the near future.