Exorcism of Emily Rose
If the amount of discussion generated after the credits roll is an indication of a "good" movie, then The Exorcism of Emily Rose demands some attention.
Audiences, coming with the expectation of Exorcist-style head-spinning special effects, will be surprised to find something much more like a courtroom drama than a scare-'em-silly outing. Certainly this film is frightening and contains many visual scenes that may be disturbing, but the fear is magnified by the expectation of evil as Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) recounts the proceedings connected with the horrifying night when he attempted to cast out the devil within Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter).
The young girl in question is a happy high school graduate preparing to leave her simple rural Minnesota home to begin college. However, her personality changes dramatically after a terrifying night in her dorm when she experiences seizures and finds herself in the grip of a suffocating force (all shown in dramatic fashion). In the upcoming days and weeks, Emily Rose reaches the point where she can no longer study, even with the help of doctors and prescriptions.
Returning home, her family decides her illness is beyond the scope of physicians, and instead enlists spiritual treatment from their Catholic priest. It is Father Moore who determines Emily Rose is suffering from demonic possession--and it is he who is charged with negligence when the girl dies under his care.
This is where the movie actually begins--with the trial to determine the clergyman's fate. The prosecutor is District Attorney Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), a faithful Christian, although not Catholic, with a reputation for tearing up a courtroom. Defending Father Moore is Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), who admits to being a casual agnostic and only takes the high profile case because her boss is dangling a partnership opportunity in front of her.
While the courtroom rhetoric unfolds, we see in flashback the series of events leading up to Emily Rose's untimely death. The centerpiece of these sequences--the smiling freshman's decline to Satan's servant--is illustrated in moments of bodily contortions, screaming, eating insects, self-mutilation and other alarming actions. These depictions fall short of explicit (explaining the film's PG-13 rating, as opposed to an R) but they will make this movie inappropriate for most pre-adult audiences.
Parents will want to exercise extreme caution with this title. The story is played out as factual, even though it is only loosely founded on an exorcism attempted in Germany during the 1970s, where a priest was accused of similar offenses. Yet the ubiquitous "Based on a True Story" title that appears at the head of the film may make the tale even more enticing to those curious about the occult.
Your personal religious views will also profoundly affected how you feel about the script, which grapples with matters of heaven and hell. While it offers a sympathetic portrayal of the Catholic priest, it depicts the Evangelical persecutor as a cardboard character with little regard for mercy.
Artistically, the film is well constructed. The legal proceedings punctuate the frightening scenes, providing effective pacing. One moment, we're viewing the horror of Emily Rose's spiritual struggle, the next we are back in court hearing testimony attempting to explain the paranormal happenings. In the end, the question of Emily Rose's neglect becomes secondary to the determination of whether or not the devil is real. No matter what the outcome of the movie, the answer to this puzzle will definitely be foremost on the minds of those who leave the theater.