The Exorcism of Emily Rose

| September 12, 2005

I went into the theater thinking that I was about to watch The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Instead, I got The Trial of Father Moore. Not a terrible film, mind you, but definitely not what I had signed up for.
Based on a true story, Emily Rose details the prosecution of a priest- the aforementioned Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson)- who tried to save the soul of a nineteen year-old girl (Jennifer Carpenter) supposedly possessed by demons. The movie opens with her death, so don’t worry that I’m spilling anything vital to the narrative. With the medical examiner concluding that Emily’s passing was anything but natural, however, the priest is then locked up to await his trial for homicide. As counsel, he is given a hotshot lawyer, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), who is fresh off a victory from a very publicized murder trial and now seeking to make partner at her firm. If she wins this case, that’s exactly what she’ll get. What Erin doesn’t count on, though, is that taking on this case also means taking on the forces of evil. And I don’t just mean the nasty prosecutor, Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott). As the film progresses, Erin begins to notice some odd behavior in her apartment. First, the clocks all stop at exactly 3 am. Then her front door opens without provocation. Later on, a tape recorder somehow turns itself on, blaring at full volume. All the while, Father Moore warns Erin to protect herself, that the dark forces have begun to battle her.
Okay, my first question… Is that the best a demon can do to scare someone–opening doors and turning on electronic devices? Umm, I don’t think there’s too much to worry about if that’s the case. I know eight year-olds who are cleverer than that when it comes to scaring someone. Creaky doors? That’s so unoriginal.
Second, have you noticed that I have yet to mention anything about Emily’s actual possession? Yeah, I kinda thought you night have picked up on that. That’s what I was thinking during the movie, too. As the minutes ticked by, I was getting more and more ticked off. This film was marketed as a thriller, a flick about the evil and horror of demonic possession. I guess we’ve already established, however, that the devil ain’t too scary. But I digress. That’s what was publicized, and I for one feel completely cheated. This was nothing but a courtroom drama, and a somewhat boring one at that. It doesn’t matter that Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson did an outstanding job with their roles, like they always do. It just wasn’t enough. Especially when I was hoping to get the crap scared out of me.
Yes, there are flashback scenes to how Emily’s possession manifests, how she, her family and Father Moore battle for her life and soul, but there aren’t nearly enough of them. Most evident was the lacking backstory with Emily. Continually, she is referred to by all who knew her as a good, devout Catholic girl. That doesn’t give the audience much to latch onto. We get one quick scene of Emily jumping up and down on her bed when she gets her college acceptance; in her next scene, she’s howling like a hyena and contorting like a circus act. My point is that we’re never given the chance to connect with Emily as a real human being, someone who’s just like you or me. That, I think, is where the horror of possession stems. It can happen to anyone. Emily just caught the devil’s eye first. As the film stands, however, that connection can never be made because we can never identify with Emily in the first place. Father Moore makes a point of saying, over and over again, that he doesn’t care if he spends the rest of his life in jail. He just wants Emily’s story to be told. Sadly, though, what we are told still doesn’t mean much.
In the end, The Exorcism of Emily Rose just misses the mark. I guess the old adage is true: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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