One of the key attractions to Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose is that it is based on a true story. It might have been more accurate for the filmmakers to follow Munich‘s lead and subtitle it “inspired by true events,” since liberties have been taken with the story being told. Another attraction of Emily Rose is its genre-straddling: it is both a horror movie and a courtroom drama, and while it succeeds more as the latter, the combination is still intriguing and well done enough to counter its shortcomings.
Anchoring the movie is Laura Linney, as the attorney assigned by the church to defend the priest (Tom Wilkinson) who is being implicated in the death of a young girl (Jennifer Carpenter, daughter of horror director John, playing the title character), who may or many not have been possessed. Linney is completely credible, even when the script has her character do things that are not. She also takes a by-the-book “Law & Order”-ish role and adds some subtle, sympathetic details to it.
Carpenter also does fine work here. The very nature of the movie invites Linda Blair comparisons, but Carpenter is completely believable in a physically and emotionally demanding role. Wilkinson, as the priest, is serviceable, but the script doesn’t tell us much about him except for his involvement in the attempted exorcism. As a result, the character is a bit two-dimensional (unlike the fiery man of the cloth Wilkinson played more than a decade ago in Priest). Scott puts his natural smugness to good use as the opposing attorney and Aghdashloo is poised and eloquent in a glorified cameo.
In terms of structure, the courtroom drama is alternately intriguing and unbelievable. The medical versus spiritual battle has gobs of dramatic potential, which the script sometimes realizes effectively and other times does not. The film tries hard to be open-ended, leaving the possibility that Emily Rose could have been either mentally ill or demonically possessed. The drawback to this approach is that it neutralizes the possession story to a certain degree and thrusts the courtroom drama into the forefront. While we feel bad for Emily Rose, we’re ambivalent about the priest. Therefore, the emotional character engagement comes from Linney‘s attorney. In other words, we care about whether or not she wins or loses more because of its impact on her than any church-vs.-state ideology.
The film holds together because the women (Linney and Carpenter) make both stories engaging, even when they don’t always blend together as one. The extras on the disc are nothing special. There are deleted scenes, but the film is already a tad too long. There’s also a brief “documentary” that unfortunately offers little information about the real Emily Rose. The film itself is the real attraction on this disc, because Emily Rose’s story is ultimately what makes this film unique in any genre.
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