Comparisons with last year’s The Last Exorcism are inevitable, both films have simple young women becoming possessed by demonic spirits and the ensuing rituals to cleanse them involve much histrionics, menacing and unexpected dialogue in foreign languages and much physical contortion. But where ‘Last’ was a fake doco flick with a slow build up and a frustratingly tacked on ending, Emily Rose remains true to tone, and is a somewhat odd 50/50 mix of courtroom drama and exorcism with the key scenes all told in flashback.
When we meet Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) he is already under arrest for Emily’s untimely death. So we know this doesn’t end happily for her…
Hotshot lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is assigned with Moore’s defence, and she attacks the case with the gusto of one who sees it as an opportunity for advancement. She is told by the ‘high ups’ in her firm that their client the Church wants this case to pass with minimal fuss and press – the tacit agreement being that a case involving being possessed by the Devil or such and the inflicted being killed while in church hands being somewhat of a negative for the image.
The lead prosecutor is Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), who uses his own devout religious beliefs to cast doubt upon the authenticity of the defense’s claims. His view is that the accused is hiding his negligence behind religion and he should get what’s coming to him.
The first half shows the two sides painstakingly building their cases through the usual Law and Order stuff including questioning witnesses, most notably Emily’s boyfriend and Father Moore himself.
Flashbacks throughout show us that the onset of the condition started at her University and was initially diagnosed as epilepsy. With the side effects seemingly that stuff moves around her room unprompted and everyone appearing to her as if she was under the influence of the Scarecrow from Batman Begins Emily is understandably unnerved.
After some unplanned calisthenics and the immediate knowledge of foreign languages Emily heads home and the local Father Moore takes over, himself a rookie at this game having never performed anything resembling an exorcism.
While on the case both Erin and Father Moore continue to be ‘contacted’ or ‘influenced’ by the demons. Why they would be worried about the outcome of the case I cannot guess… I would have thought that where Hell and Satan is concerned any publicity is god publicity.
Anyway the latter stages bring out the ever-effective hissing tape recording of events, and a sequence showing the culmination of the exorcism ceremony in all it’s glory, with a storm, pestilence and the intensity turned up to 11.
Did I mention it occurred on Halloween for good measure? Well of course it does.
I liked The Exorcism of Emily Rose and think it slightly better than The Last Exorcism despite the slight compromise necessary due to the courtroom scenes. The ritual scenes were probably less realistic (if that is even a claim) but more effective than the events in the latter film, despite or perhaps because of the absence of gore and shlock.
Wilkinson, Scott and Linney do their best to add credibility to events which could easily veer into ludicrous territory given the subject matter, but as tends to be the case it is the performance of the possessed that you look at most, and while I have never heard of Jennifer Carpenter since this film she is up to the job here.
Carpenter has an amazingly expressive face and large wide eyes that effectively purvey the inner struggle, pain and stress that you would undergo if a pack of naughty spirits had infiltrated your person. She only gets a few scenes in which to ply her trade but in those brief sequences she provides the two or three more memorable images in the film.
Emily Rose might not stay with you for long after you watch it, but for the 120 minutes of its duration you won’t find your mind wandering elsewhere too much. With these sort of flicks that’s all you can ask really.
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Part courtroom drama, part horror film. The two disparate genres don’t often mix but somehow they make it work here.