‘Based on a true story’ is one of those dreaded precursors which often putsa confused slant on movies, used if a film bears someremote, passing resemblance to a true life event. The Exorcism of EmilyRose is the latest to use the tag without really having the right to.
The film, directed by Scott Derrickson, claims to be based on the true life tale of the first exorcism to beofficially recognised by the Catholic church and the trial that resultedfrom it. But dig deeper and discover the real story is about a German girland the real-life trial contained none of the events portrayed in the film.Does this feigned authenticity affect how entertaining the eventual filmis?
Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is a high-flying lawyer who takes on the case ofFather Moore (Tom Wilkinson), a priest charged with manslaughter. He was putin charge of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), a college student who wasbelieved by him to be possessed. The film flashes between the trial ofFather Moore and the spiritual troubles his agnostic lawyer has and thedemonic episodes Emily suffers.
It’s an original genre mix, splicing courtroom drama with supernaturalhorror and there are times when the mix succeeds. But after a while youcan’t help finding the combination of stale trial proceedings and CGI horrortheatrics a little incongruous. The flashbacks themselves do contain somecreepy moments and they truly shine thanks to the breakout performances ofnewcomer Jennifer Carpenter. She manages to convey genuine fear and makesher plight more involving. There are also some exciting visuals and anarresting sequence in a classroom. But don’t let the advertising campaignfool you into thinking these take up the majority of the film. This isprimarily a courtroom drama.
Laura Linney is as reliable as always, although her attack by ‘devilishforces’ does seem a little clumsily added in order to make for some horror inthe film’s court scenes too. Tom Wilkinson carries an air ofmuted respect that also makes his priest an engaging character. CampbellScott also does sterling work as the DA and the cast help to add a classyfeel to a much-maligned genre.
What the film lacks is a sense of surprise. By the time it’s all wrapped up,nothing really happens that you didn’t expect. It’s been a massive boxoffice draw in the US and to be fair does carry more intelligence than mostof the other horror films released this year. Annoyingly, given that thefilm is very, very loosely based on fact, it ends with a coda tellingus what happened to the ‘real’ characters’. Don’t believe a word of it.