Many films about demonic possession have come and gone in the days since THE EXORCIST first astonished audiences in 1973. While there have been several moments of shock and exploitation along the way, very few films have actually served to terrify us in quite the same way. That is, until the release of THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, a film that challenges the institutions of faith and science, while demonstrating the power of fear. Father Moore is placed on trial for negligent homicide after the death of a college student, Emily Rose, who he believed to be possessed by demons. By telling Emily's story, Father Moore hopes to enlighten the world to the reality of God and the devil, and to finally put her soul at ease. As we will see, director Scott Derrickson signs his own death warrant in his decision to frame this story around Father Moore's courtroom case, but not for the obvious reasons.
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE has two distinct personas: that of the Horror film, but also of a dramatized re-enactment of true events. When taken individually, Derrickson displays a keen control over these two differing genres, save for a few deadly exceptions where he attempts to blend them both together. The most apparent flaw is in the director's decision to involve supernatural elements in and around the court case. He is asking too much of his audience to believe that Father Moore's defender would be overcome by demons as well, mixing fact with fiction. By intercutting between the courtroom and the retelling of Emily's tale, Derrickson not only destroys the forward momentum of the picture, but dispels the suspense as expert testimonies explain away Emily's 'condition' as being rooted in medical science, thereby completely contradicting the horror of her situation. On the reverse, if he were trying to convince us that Emily's story were rooted in fact, he would refrain from exaggerating Emily's visions using computerization, which rules out any open interpretations of her 'condition.'
The film's greatest asset becomes its greatest weakness, as well. Jennifer Carpenter administers a downright terrifying performance as Emily, losing herself in the character and punishing her body in order to truly become 'possessed' right before our very eyes. Her inhuman contortions and venomous line deliveries seem inspired by the devil, himself. We are then left to wonder why she is underused to such a questionable degree. Emily hardly appears in the picture, and becomes a secondary character behind the drama unfolding in the courtroom. It is difficult to sympathize with her situation when we are never given enough time to understand her before she becomes possessed. This leaves an emotional disconnect at all times in the picture.
How, then, can we consider this to be a successful Horror film with so much working against it? THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE challenges our beliefs, and presents an intellectual discussion of the supernatural that pits science and reason against faith. Derrickson assembles an excellent cast, including Tom Wilkinson as Father Moore and Laura Linney as attorney Erin Bruner. The story, itself, is one of the most compelling tales of possession and exorcism in recorded history, and had it been arranged differently by having the prosecution argue their theories in closing, the film, itself, could have had a much greater impact. The courtroom drama simply undermines the horror in its present state, which is a shame when EMILY ROSE comes so close to achieving cult status within the genre.
Movies like THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE:
THE LAST EXORCISM, THE ENTITY, THE EXORCIST, REQUIEM.