The Exorcism of Emily Rose

A Film Review By The Mike

Rating: PG-13 for Intense Physical Contortions, Violence/Self-Harm, and Demons
Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Laura Linney, Campbell Scott
Directed By: Scott Derrickson

Final Grade:

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a horror film that has been released in the wrong day and age. 30 years ago, before the “Bloody 80’s” and the “Bloody-Awful 90’s” desensitized horror viewers and made the genre into something that rarely inspired them to take its name literally, this film would have been met with controversy and chaos, much like other films of the Mid 70’s. It was in this time period that Hollywood dropped some of its most theologically horrifying films on the market, with audience shredding results. Few people today realize that horror films are capable of doing more than providing a fleeting glance at some contained situation of attack on a populace of characters that is far from innocent. The Exorcism of Emily Rose, however, remembers.

Thus, director Scott Derrickson, the crew, and an all-star cast have set out to create a horror film that’s more than a series of random events that only make the audience feel momentary shards of anxiety. They’ve also set out to make a film that doesn’t shy away from its themes for a light moment or a good laugh. And though it might get a reputation as more of a courtroom drama than a horror film by many bloodthirsty viewers, I think this is the type of horror film that the serious cinemagoer has been waiting for.

The plot, as you might have guessed, focuses on a girl named Emily Rose. But it doesn’t focus specifically on her, instead showing us the events that followed her death and perceived possession, and how they effected the people involved, particularly the priest that presided over the ceremony. He is charged with negligence in the case of Emily’s death, but his only concern is for telling Emily’s story, the way she wanted it to be told. This leads to a series of explanations of what happened, what might have happened, and what might have been the alternatives. The film in no way gives a definitive statement at any time that says – “This actually happened like this, with 100% certainty.” But it does offer ideas. And theories. And little bits of knowledge that might effect how the characters (and the viewers) accept those theories and ideas.

None of this matters without a connection to the characters involved. Luckily, the film offers some of the very best actors that you probably don’t know by name in the main roles. Most noticeable is Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom, Batman Begins) as the priest, who’s a man of incredible endurance and moral rigidity despite the harrowing events that surround him. He’s defended in trial by Laura Linney (Primal Fear, Love Actually), whose character is a great example of a repressed uncertainty and forced confidence that often occurs when beliefs are challenged. On the opposing side is Campbell Scott (The Spanish Prisoner, Roger Dodger) as a prosecutor that’s probably the film’s most fascinating character – A “man of God” who must disprove the priest’s words and make a scientific explanation the final say in the case.

There will be gorehounds and thrillseekers that will be utterly disappointed by this “Exorcism”. And there are those that will try to stay on the film’s plane of thought, yet will be deterred by the attempts to add “modern” horror standards (The “Demon” visions and the “out-of-the-blue” car crash sprung to my mind). But I think that this film deserves more than that, because those that view it with a willingness to be inspired to think will probably leave the theater very satisfied.

In fact, I think the most true “horror” aspect of this film, like The Exorcist and The Omen in the 70’s, is that it does not provide us with one “ultimate” evil. Unlike the nearsighted or unexplained horrors that have dominated the last two decades, this one reminds us that the horrifying events it shows are only part of the equation – and that something more terrifying and more difficult to explain is lying behind these events.

It’s a method of approach that I wish more filmmakers would consider before giving their film the label, when in reality they inspire little to no real “horror”.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>