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The Exorcism of Emily Rose Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/19/2005

I was supposed to see The Exorcism of Emily Rose over a week ago, but the screening for it was on the same night as the screening for the Samuel L. Jackson/Eugene Levy comedy The Man.  I decided to go to The Man screening, thinking that Exorcism wouldn’t do that well anyway.  What happened?  The Man came in sixth place with over $4 million, and Exorcism came in first place with over $30 million.  I figured that I should finally review this movie then (yes…I did eventually see it.)

Nathaniel (Andrew Wheeler) and Maria Rose (Marilyn Norry) have called a medical examiner (Terence Kelly) to their farm in Henderson, Indiana, to check out why their daughter, 19-year-old college student Emily (Jennifer Carpenter), has died.  The examiner concludes that Emily didn’t die of a “natural” death, shocking her parents, Emily’s sister Alice (Katie Keating), and her other two sisters (Iris Graham and Taylor Hill.)  Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is charged with negligent homicide, because he performed an exorcism on Emily that apparently led her to her death.  A law firm run by Karl Gunderson (Colm Feore) represents the Archdiocese, and he wants one of his best and brightest attorneys on Moore’s case.  He calls in Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), who recently got an acquittal for James Van Hopper, a wealthy client who recently murdered someone.  Karl and the Archdiocese insist that Moore should not take the stand, and Erin agrees to take the case, only if she is made a senior partner afterwards.  She meets with Moore in his cell, who of course does want to take the stand, so that he can tell Emily’s story (she brushes it off at first.)  He won’t admit guilt, but he agrees to have Erin represent him.  She then meets with assistant district attorney Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), a deeply religious man (Erin is a self-professed agnostic), who offers her a plea of reckless endangerment.  She turns it down, and the trial is on.  The prosecution tries to argue that Emily was psychotic-epileptic (meaning that she was mentally unstable and had seizures); the defense tries to argue that she was actually possessed, and therefore they needed to exorcise her.  All of the events seemed to happen at 3 A.M., the “witching hour,” and she was stalked by a shadowy figure.  She had to drop out of college, where her family would take care of her.  Soon, she stopped eating (except for bugs), clawed the walls, and spoke in tongues (and in Aramaic, according to Moore.)  Before Judge Brewster (Mary Beth Hurt), several witnesses try to tell Emily’s story.  Emily’s classmate friend Jason (Joshua Close), who had seen these supposed “possessions” firsthand; Dr. Sidera Adani (Shohreh Aghdashloo), an expert in religious possession; Dr. Mueller (Ken Welsh), who had prescribed a drug called Gambutrol to help calm down her epilepsy; Dr. Briggs (Henry Czerny), who performed the autopsy; and medical doctor Graham Cartwright (Duncan Fraser), who witnessed the attempted exorcism.  As the trial progresses, Erin starts thinking that she is seeing weird things…all at 3 A.M.  She has an uphill battle trying to defend Moore, because with all of Thomas’s credible witnesses, it looks unlikely that she was possessed.

The story, co-written by Paul Harris Boardman and its director, Scott Derrickson, was based on the story of a young German girl named Anneliese Michel.  After she died on July 1, 1976, her parents and the priests who carried out the exorcism were later convicted of manslaughter.

The movie is about one-third reminiscent of 1973’s The Exorcist and two-thirds similar to an episode of NBC’s “Law & Order.”  That balance doesn’t make it very scary, but it does make it rather interesting.  Unfortunately, if you were expecting chills, you might be a little bit bored.  The ads for the movie make it look like a terrifying horror movie, but the actual movie itself is rather tame.

The performances are effective though, in terms of fulfilling a horror movie requirement and a courtroom drama.  Carpenter is very freaky when she starts becoming possessed.  Linney and Scott play credible lawyers.  Wilkinson didn’t really wow me, but he didn’t disappoint either.  Aghdashloo, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2003’s House of Sand and Fog and was killed off last season on FOX’s “24,” plays a brief but memorable witness.

I guess I can never predict the tastes of the American public.  While I thought that The Exorcism of Emily Rose wasn’t bad, but not particularly worth paying full price for, apparently everyone else disagreed.  With The Man falling out of the Box Office top 10 in its second week, I guess more people would rather get possessed by this courtroom drama than laugh at a mismatched buddy comedy.  What do I know?


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