Horror Reviews

Monday, December 15, 2008

DVD Review: Exorcism of Emily Rose

Review by Kristin Battestella

Exorcism movies are few and far between-I can only think of a handful of films minus the weak Exorcist sequels. 2005’sThe Exorcism of Emily Rose is the most recent theatrical release dealing with possessions by you know who.

Laura Linney (Congo) stars as hot shot lawyer Erin Bruner. She’s won several high profile cases, and her firm promises to make her a partner if she takes on Father Moore’s (Tom Wilkinson) intriguing case. The church doesn’t want any bad publicity, and Erin reluctantly defends the Priest accused of murder during the exorcism of Emily Rose.

The exorcism is uniquely contained entirely in flashbacks and court testimony, a very intriguing concept from director Scott Derrickson (Hellraiser: Inferno). Instead of an opening exorcism movie and a closing court room drama, the two are merged together. As witnesses recount Emily’s experiences, Erin also begins seeing things and having disturbing dreams. The storylines go hand in hand on some points and jar at others. Who is the film for-horror enthusiasts or Law and Order Junkies? Still, I liked the unusual style better than a thinly stretched exorcism movie with a confusing legalese sequel.

Linney holds her own Erin Bruner. The character actress does alright, but the trouble is her jack of all trades performances. She is neither horrible or stand out here, as in The Life of David Gale and The Truman Show. In what film has Laura Linney stolen the show? I don’t mean it as a knock, but any actress could have filled the role, and a bigger name might have given the picture more notice. Perhaps it was Derrickson and his handling of the dual performance? Is Erin a confident lawyer or a jittery and spooked girl?

Likewise we don’t see much of the film’s titular Emily Rose as played by Jennifer Carpenter. We meet her just before her troubles being-and everything from epilepsy to her evil big city college is blamed for Emily’s horrific episodes. Carpenter (Dexter) is rather run of the mill and thinking back, I’m not sure if she has any considerable dialogue of her own. Others say what Emily said, and her letters are read in court. More should have been given to Emily. The audience waits like the jury onscreen, hearing character witnesses describe Emily’s terrible condition and torturous exorcism. In this instance, the movie’s set up has backfired. We don’t really care about Emily. We can’t sympathize with her because we don’t really even know her.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose’s saving grace is Tom Wilkinson’s Father Moore. He is the character on which the film is rightfully centered. We know enough early on to realize evil bad, priest good. We want him to win the case and prove his exorcism beliefs justified. Based on his position alone, we believe his version of events to be true. Wilkinson perfectly hits the balance between the mission of truth and the anguish this whole sequence of events has caused. I’ve seen him previously in comedic films like The Full Monty. We like him despite the weight of the situation simply because Moore is a likeable guy.

The relationship that develops between Erin and Father Moore is also a highlight. Erin becomes his lone jailhouse parishioner, and when evil makes its presence known to her, Father Moore is there with information and confidence. His claim that 3 a.m. is the devil’s hour, a perversion of Christ’s 3 p.m. crucifixion, is the creepiest piece of info given. Now when I wake up during the night, I refuse to look at the clock.

Relationships could save The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but what little effects are given could have been better. I prefer the ‘what you don’t see’ method best, but Derrickson shows too little and gives us nothing new. Cliché invisible forces crushing and slapping Emily around are too weak compared to any Exorcist film. Now let’s face it, a lot of horror films and especially exorcism films will always be compared to that 360 head spin and split pea soup vomit. The Exorcism of Emily Rose doesn’t measure up.

Again I come back to the split personality nature of the film. Looking at the effects and lack of scares, The Exorcism of Emily Rose isn’t really a horror film. Then again, intelligent law watchers will think the exorcism flashbacks ridiculous. Religious audiences might enjoy the moral and faith debates presented, but the ethical scenes are few and far between. A mature young adult church group might enjoy a good analysis of Emily Rose, but kids and prudes should avoid the naughty possession scenes. The only scene I found scary was Emily’s initial demonic encounter. Alone in a dorm hall at night any number of horrible things can happen. Pseudo rapeage by invisible evil I suspect is the worst.

We picked up the unrated version of The Exorcism of Emily Rose for a fairly affordable price, but the DVD had little to offer beyond one incomplete deleted scene. For exorcism collectors, the set is a must have, otherwise it’s hit or miss for horror or court room audiences.

In the end, smart performances cannot save The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and mainstream audiences are likely to label the film as my mother did, “Stupid.”

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