Throughout history mental illness has been misdiagnosed as demonic possession which has led to severe and tragic consequences for so many of the victims.Over the centuries, as medical science advanced and a greater knowledge and understanding of psychiatric and psychological issues became commonplace, the need for exorcisms decreased and now the only encounter most people have with the practice is through films and TV. Which is terrible really, I mean, while everyone’s been out chasing after the nutters and fruitcakes and worrying about their “feelings” and “civil rights” no one has spared a thought for the poor old exorcists now out of a job. It’s not as if they could transfer their skills to another industry either…
Claiming to be based on a true story, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) quietly opens with a medical examiner paying a visit to a simple family (bumpkins) out in the country. One of the daughters has died and the medical examiner states that he doesn’t believe it was natural causes. A priest, Fr. Richard Moore is present in the house as is a cop who arrests the priest for negligent homicide.
Fr. Moore’s case is assigned a prosecutor, a religious man called Ethan Thomas who will prosecute with impartiality, and the diocese hires a bad-ass criminal defence lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) who claims no religious beliefs at all. As the trial begins it is revealed that Fr. Moore was performing an exorcism on the girl who died, the Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) of the film’s title.
From then on the story of what happened to Emily is told through a series of flashbacks interspersed with the progression of the trial. With the trial under way we see how Emily left the simple life behind her and went of to university to study to become a teacher. While away at college, Emily had begun to experience a series of terrifying episodes that appear to be the result of demonic possession. Witnesses are called by both sides that offer testimony that sometimes corroborate the possession story or counter with medical evidence that Emily was actually suffering from a severe form of epilepsy or psychosis.
Fr. Moore is convinced that Emily was possessed and that the exorcism was the right course of action despite the tragic outcome and all he wants is to be able to tell Emily’s story from the stand in the courtroom. However, the trial does not go well and Fr. Moore seems destined to loose, just as he warns his lawyer that there are dark forces at work around the trial and that everyone involved is in grave danger…
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a fascinating blend of courtroom drama and horror that manages to hook the viewer in the way that a really good episode of Law and Order used to be able to. The courtroom drama is something so commonplace on TV that everyone is familiar with it so Emily Rose is grounded in comfortable territory from the start. The court setting also provides a nice “good versus evil” plot that cleverly reflects the allegedly demonic battle between the same forces ranging in and around young Miss Rose.
The details of the possession rip you out of the comfortable court and manage to unsettle the viewer well with the supernatural scenes offering some nice little frights, like the demons Emily sees everywhere, or the bit where she’s contorted on the floor in an inhuman pose.The scene where she is bouncing up and down from kneeling to standing and back again over and over is frankly fucking creepy.
Overall, the possession scenes are well handled with the effects subtle and unnerving.There are some clues in the film, like how it’s raining in certain scenes like the many of the flashbacks that lead me to believe that there’s more to The Exorcism of Emily Rose than is immediately apparent on a casual viewing, though I think I’ll leave a more in-depth analysis to someone with more time for such things like a film student or other shiftless layabout.
The big set piece of Emily Rose is the exorcism itself, which surprisingly takes place about three quarters of the way through the film. The scene unfolds well and had the potential to be frightening enough but lacks the punch needed to really make the audience feel scared; it’s almost as if the director held back when he really needed to press on. Unfortunately, when the script for the exorcism scene was being written the writer didn’t hold back and had poor old Emily possessed with not one demon or spirit but with loads of the buggers which claim they were each responsible for the actions of various evil people throughout history, a concept I quite liked. The problem was in claiming that one of the demons was actually Lucifer himself, which was a bit much.
The other thing that was a bit much for The Exorcism of Emily Rose was Tom Wilkinson as the priest Fr. Moore. Wilkinson is known for his performances in Batman Begins, The Kennedys, and most notably in Michael Clayton, and he’s the kind of actor who just can’t help himself when he makes a film but always does his very best with the material. He’s just a little too good in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and he just dominates every scene he is in, showing up everyone else in the process.
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Details of the True Story: http://www.chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/emilyrose.php