a critiQal film review The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Plot: When 19 year old Emily Rose (Carpenter) dies after an attempted exorcism, her priest (Wilkinson) is put on trial. Lawyer Emily Bruner (Linney) takes the case under promise of partner if successful. Emily's defense for the priest leads her to question her own beliefs about demons, possessions, and other things supernatural.

1014 words (Est. Reading Time 5m 4s)
  • ...a lack of statement and a rather bland documentary-like feel dampen any effect this film may have had.

I know, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is not your typical Sunday movie. Of course, I only realized I had watched it on Sunday after I saw the movie – I hadn’t really thought about it beforehand.

I had wanted to see the film for a little while, since about the time I heard it was based on a true story. I’m always a sucker for horror movies that are based on events that actually happened, especially weird ones.

Horror movies are sometimes outrageous, sometimes gruesome, but most of the time you can distance yourself from the film knowing it’s all just make-believe. Throw in “based on a true story” and already it’s spookier, since you know at least some of it is true. Of course, “based on a true story” is a bit overused these days as the definition of the word “based” seems to keep expanding. Years ago, “based on a true story” gave the filmmakers very little license to throw in their own creative fiction in the film. Now, it seems as if all “based on a true story” needs to include is one event that’s true, and the rest of the film can be all fiction.

Despite that, “based on a true story” always seems to sucker me in anyway. The story always seems more gripping, doesn’t it, if “based on a true story” is attached to it? That was my original basis behind checking out The Exorcism of Emily Rose – just those 5 little words. Did I know much about the movie or had I heard anything good or bad about it? Nope – just those 5 little words pulled me in.

So, would the film be able to keep my interest, or would I have to rely on just those 5 little words to keep me going throughout The Exorcism of Emily Rose?

The cast of actors was an odd assortment of people who most viewers would never think of in the same film. Campbell Scott (Dying Young) with Laura Linney (Mystic River (2003)) and Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins (2005))?

Still, despite the odd conglomeration of talents that always seems to come together in independent films, Screen Gems’ The Exorcism of Emily Rose gives each of it’s actors a role that they seem to do their best to fit perfectly into. Laura Linney, as an agnostic lawyer, does a great job of using her open mind to lead viewers through the film. She is also able to provide a middle ground of faith, balancing out the fanatical faith of Priest Tom Wilkinson and the utter disbelief of Prosecuting Attorney Campbell Scott. The three do a great job of showing all sides, giving the viewer 3 different perspectives on the story as it unfolds.

While the plot is apparently based on a true story, it’s not really the story that the film tries to focus on. Instead, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, before anything else, wants to get the viewer to question their own beliefs. Do demons really exist? Is possession real, or is it simply delusions of a fragile mind? Do exorcisms help, or are they simply a naive way of dealing with the mentally ill? The best thing about the film is its ability to present the story and let the viewer decide for themselves, rather than try to force feed any preconceived notions down the viewer’s throat.

Unfortunately, trying to present this film as almost an unbiased reenactment also tends to make The Exorcism of Emily Rose a bit on the dull side at times. Most filmmakers have a statement they want to make with their films, an idea they want to get across. This may be something as simple as good guys win or more esoteric-like love conquers all. Whatever they are trying to say, the reason they made the film is to say it the best way they know how.

With The Exorcism of Emily Rose, however, that statement is missing, and the viewer will know it almost right from the start. It makes the film a bit more dry and less lively without that kind of creative force behind it, leaving viewers to pang for a story with real creative vision backing it up – although the interesting new combination of a courtroom-horror may be the start of a whole new plethora of films from other horror makers further down the road. The Exorcism of Emily Rose seems more of a documentary than a horror film.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is not as gore-ridden and grotesque as horror fans may have been expecting. There are very few instances where the viewers get to witness the girl in the throes of her “possession”, but those instances are very well put together. Each special effect is blended in perfectly with the next to create the illusion this “possession” is actually taking place.

While The Exorcism of Emily Rose isn’t going anywhere near to the top of my list of horror films, it does do a good job of providing thought-provoking questions without answers. The odd conglomeration of characters in the cast all do a pretty good job of pulling the viewer into the film, but the lack of statement on the director’s behalf does create problems, and will cause many to lose interest.

Now, the real question: would this have been worth watching without those 5 magical little words? Maybe, but “based on a true story” does create an eerie feeling of atmosphere that the film does it’s best to try to keep going throughout the length of the film.

Ultimately, it’s lack of statement and it’s odd mislabeling as a horror film (rather than the thriller it is) are the biggest of The Exorcism of Emily Rose‘s faults. Despite these, the film struggles on and does pose some rather intriguing questions that should have the viewer talking long after the film ends.

If you’re in for a documentary, this movie may be perfect for you. But, if you’re looking more for horror “based on a true story”, check out The Amityville Horror (1979), The Mothman Prophecies (2002) or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre instead.

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