While the US advertising focuses more on the horror angle of “The Exorcism Of Emily Rose”, some people may be surprised to find out that it is more of a courtroom drama, with the horror stuff told both in flashback and, it seems the evil forces in question also haunt the principal characters through paranoia and suggestion. I was surprised also, but even more so that both the legal thriller and the horror element works rather well. There is also no clear answer to the questions raised, allowing room for not just a jury, but an audience, to make up thier own minds.
However, I do take some issue with the ‘based on a true story’ part of it, since the story is updated to present day and some of the names have changed so much you expect a flashing ad copy that, under ‘based on a true story’ it would also boast , “ripped from the headlines”. In fact, before the rewrites, this was previously known as ‘The Exorcism Of Anneliese Michel”, and the changes were made, I suppose, as to not set the film in the early seventies. Now, my nitpick is that at the end of the film, the filmmakers tell you what became of the main characters after the events depicted onscreen. The story of ‘Emily Rose’ isn’t true. In the actual event, a teen named Anneliese Michel in Germany, and it was the last time the Catholic Church officially acknowledged a case of demonic possession and sanctioned exorcism rites. Granted, we are in a day where most filmgoers prefer the real deal, and not the filmmakers’ clever manipultions, but for dramatic license, some things have to be changed for various reasons. Still, in reality, Michel’s parents were also put on trial. While I’ll admit the film that is ‘based’ on the story doesn’t creep over into cheap exploitation, and while they are, for the most part respectful of The Church, I could not help but wonder if this film could have been trivialized. Well, as to the end ‘where are they now’ blurbs, writer-director Scott Derrickson has put that blame where it belongs.
While I myself believe in the afterlife, the Holy Trinity and that there are angels and demons out there in the spiritual realm, I can’t swallow some of the demons chasing after lawyers and witnesses after the fact, (i.e the ‘3 AM’ thing) because, it is the ‘Exorcism of Emily Rose’, not ‘The Haunting of Erin Bruner’, laywer at large. It is one thing to keep an open mind, it is quite another to have the paranormal come out of the woodwork to harrass the defense for the accused Priest. And why don’t these shadow demons appear in the courtroom? Both Laura Linney (Bruner) and Tom Wilkinson (Father Moore) give very good performances, and I did like some of the touches in the film that helped thier characters slightly grow. Linney’s Bruner especially, since a plot point is made she and her legal team got an accused killer off a few months prior to the events in the film; during the course of the film, that aquitted killer will kill again before killing himself- and cause a bit of self-doubt on Bruner’s part. Father Moore sticks to not only his story, but pursuades his lawyer to have him tell the tale of what ‘really happened’ to Emily Rose.
There are two sides to the case: the prosecutor, Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) goes to medical testimony and that Emily Rose died from lack of treatments relating to possible epilepsy and psychosis, and taking her off her meds, which may or may not have helped her condition. In any case, she was left in the care of her Priest, and she died with several self inflicted wounds, as well as lack of nutrition. The other side strongly suggests that there were six demonic spirits that first haunted, then entered, the teen. A pre-possessed Rose is almost sucked into her bed, and her body contorts, then paralyzes her for a short time. This was the work of evil spirits, who walk among us, so says Father Moore. I liked the idea that they showed this, and then gave a reasonable, logical explanation for ‘strange voices’ or ‘two voices’ coming from Emily Rose. Because of this, the flashback scenes are more scary: if you were to think that demons were ‘allowed’ to come after her (it is suggested that this was part of God’s plan) or want just your fictional horror film, well, you will get what you want, fiction or no fiction.
But as riveting and involving as the picture is, I’m not sure why the filmmakers didn’t give a few extra scenes to Jennifer Carpenter and Emily Rose, the character she protrays. I would have liked to have seen, aside from the defense point of view, the prosecution’s. Yes, I believe there’s a heaven and a hell, and I also believe that there are many people out there suffering from epilepsy and psychosis. In history, it has been speculated that some mentally disturbed patients suffered from such diseases, and some ‘demonic posessions’ were actually tied to epilepsy and/or schizophrenia. I don’t think there was enough of a balance here, because aside from her one happy moment of going to college, all the scenes involving Emily Rose are her being attacked/raped by unseen forces, dark figures in the rain, ugly looking skulls showing up in lightning infested clouds, her classmates’ faces turning into leftovers from ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, and then her body contorts, she rips out her hair, eats spiders, scratches the walls, and commands cats and snakes to get in the way of the exorcism. I’m not saying this isn’t intense and spooky stuff, but what I am saying is that epilepsy and schizophrenia are just as scary and for those who suffer from them, just as terrifying. Yes, you can draw your own conclusions, but those last paragraphs regarding the aftermath of the film, violate any validity the film was attempting to accomplish, since it was based on a true story, and now it isn’t.
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Starring : Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Jennifer Carpenter, Campbell Scott and Colm Feore.
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