What if demons really existed? What if they truly were fighting God and the forces of good? What if those beliefs brought you to a courtroom on a charge of murder.
Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson kicked off the fall movie season last weekend with The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The strength of this movie lies mostly in the fact that it is not only based on a true story, but also that it contrasts two genres that were – until now – diametrically opposed; horror and courtroom drama.
Defense attorney Erin Bruner gets more than she bargained for when she undertakes the case of Father Moore, a priest charged with negligence causing death after an exorcism gone wrong. As the trial progresses, she will become more and more personally involved, becoming aware of dark forces revolving around the case. Skeptical, Bruner is forced to question her own beliefs… and disbeliefs.
The courtroom battle serves as background for the scenes that retell the story of the death of Emily Rose. Surprisingly enough, the courtroom scenes are more captivating than the possession sequences.
Was Emily’s death really caused by the exorcism? Is Father Moore guilty of a mercy killing to rid her soul of evil? Could regular medication have cured her of what seemed like a textbook case of schizophrenia, or was her illness too powerful for any drug?
Although Laura Linney delivers a solid performance as the atheistic lawyer, Tom Wilkinson lacks charisma as the priest trapped by his faith. He fails to make the audience sympathize with his plight. The true highlight of this movie is Jennifer Carpenter, brilliantly rising to the occasion in the challenging title role.
The movie is based on the real-life story of Anneliese Michel, one of the rare modern occurrences of demonic possession to have been recognized by the Church. Early on, Anneliese was diagnosed with a mental disorder, but her family was forced to turn to more extreme methods when medication seemed to have no effect. After several exorcisms failed, Anneliese ultimately died of starvation, and the priest and both of her parents were charged with negligence leading to death.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a far cry from 1973’s The Exorcist, which still succeeds in scaring audiences around the world. Although those expecting to be scared out of their wits will be disappointed, the fact that this movie is based on actual events should be enough to spook most movie-goers. The Exorcism of Emily Rose adds depth to a theme that had only previously been looked at superficially. The result is a sober movie, stripped of extravagant special effects, but all the more thought-provoking for it.