We missed this 2005 film when it first appeared, so I’m reviewing it now as part of our Weekend Reviews of older genre flicks. Part horror movie, part Law and Order: Supernatural Victims Unit, it can be purchased from Amazon.

Cast and Crew

Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman

Laura Linney as Erin Bruner
Jennifer Carpenter as Emily Rose
Scott Campbell as Ethan Thomas
Tom Wilkinson as Father Moore
Colm Feore as Karl Gunderson
Joshua Close as Jason
Kenneth Walsh as Dr. Mueller
Duncan Fraser as Dr. Cartwright

Premise:

Convulsions and nightmarish phenomena cut short Emily Rose’s first year of university. People turn to devils as she passes. Voices haunt her, ones no one else could hear. Finally, she begins to exhibit the classic signs—- as horror movies have presented them—- of demonic possession. When psychiatric treatment fails, her family turned to a priest. When the girl dies, he faces charges, and the church hires a skeptical but skilled lawyer to defend him. His position: demons really possessed the girl, and his actions were justified as a religious rite and protected as a religious right.

High Points:

The film makes effective use of unsettling imagery in its depiction of Emily’s experiences and when establishing the story’s settings. The film begins with the barbed wire fence surrounding a Carpenter Gothic house. We see dry cornstalks and unharvested crops. Cats have run of the yard. A damaged barn door remains in disrepair. Snow falls—and yet a wasp’s nest buzzes with activity.

Initially, at least, the film demonstrates balance, leaving us to decide whether supernatural or psychological forces bedevil Emily Rose. This ambivalence serves the film well; I wish it had been maintained throughout.

Low Point:

Based on a True Story. I realize we’ve come to distrust that phrase, which figured in the advertising and appears even more prominently in the film. The claim, however, had me second-guessing, wondering which scenes reflected reality and which were Hollywood fabrications. In short, it engaged my rational mind in a way which removed me from the film’s world. At that point, the movie ceased to be all that frightening. In reality, Emily Rose deviates significantly from the story that inspired it. Emily Rose stresses its “true” origins in various ways while promoting the supernatural angle. We eventually see other characters experience unexplained phenomenon, indicating that the demons are real in the world of the film. The movie even advances the argument that Emily’s experiences represent a compelling argument for the existence of God. The filmmakers either should have made a more accurate adaptation (or at least one that really balanced the possible interpretations of Emily’s experience) or simply made a horror movie (minimizing the pretense that the film represents a true account.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 The film covers material we’ve seen before, though it does take its own approach when it becomes a courtroom drama.

Story: 3/6. The story works best as a passable horror film. More often, however, we’re watching a fairly pedestrian courtroom drama. It’s interesting, but ultimately one-sided and predictable. A twist involving a key witness strains credibility, even in the world of this film.

Effects: 5/6. The effects generally work and have been kept to a minimum. Expect a few low-level shudders, rather than grotesque spectacle and gratuitous gore.

Acting. 5/6. Jennifer Carpenter, in particular, stands out as the haunted Rose.

Production: 5/6.

Emotional Response: 4/6.

Overall: 4/6.

In total, The Exorcism of Emily Rose receives a score of 29/42.

Additional Comments

A German film, Requiem, stays closer to the known facts of the case, which concerns a Bavarian girl named Anneliese Michel. It will be a subject of a future Weekend Review.

My own account of Anneliese Michel’s short, sad life appears here. Other perspectives may be found around the Web. A recording of Michel’s “demonic” voice may be heard in various places, including Youtube.