The Exorcism of Emily Rose

UK release date: 25 November 2005

cast list
Tom Wilkinson
Laura Linney
Jennifer Carpenter
Campbell Scott

directed by
Scott Derrickson

‘Based on a true story’ is one of those dreaded precursors which often puts a confused slant on movies, used if a film bears some remote, passing resemblance to a true life event. The Exorcism of Emily Rose 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 be officially recognised by the Catholic church and the trial that resulted from it. But dig deeper and discover the real story is about a German girl and the real-life trial contained none of the events portrayed in the film. Does this feigned authenticity affect how entertaining the eventual film is?

Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is a high-flying lawyer who takes on the case of Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), a priest charged with manslaughter. He was put in charge of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), a college student who was believed by him to be possessed. The film flashes between the trial of Father Moore and the spiritual troubles his agnostic lawyer has and the demonic episodes Emily suffers.

It’s an original genre mix, splicing courtroom drama with supernatural horror and there are times when the mix succeeds. But after a while you can’t help finding the combination of stale trial proceedings and CGI horror theatrics a little incongruous. The flashbacks themselves do contain some creepy moments and they truly shine thanks to the breakout performances of newcomer Jennifer Carpenter. She manages to convey genuine fear and makes her plight more involving. There are also some exciting visuals and an arresting sequence in a classroom. But don’t let the advertising campaign fool you into thinking these take up the majority of the film. This is primarily a courtroom drama.

Laura Linney is as reliable as always, although her attack by ‘devilish forces’ does seem a little clumsily added in order to make for some horror in the film’s court scenes too. Tom Wilkinson carries an air of muted respect that also makes his priest an engaging character. Campbell Scott also does sterling work as the DA and the cast help to add a classy feel 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 box office draw in the US and to be fair does carry more intelligence than most of the other horror films released this year. Annoyingly, given that the film is very, very loosely based on fact, it ends with a coda telling us what happened to the ‘real’ characters’. Don’t believe a word of it.

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