The Exorcism of Emily Rose Movie Review

For the record, I'm suspicious of any film that claims to be based on "true events." The opening credits for The Exorcism of Emily Rose tell us that it is based on the true story of a priest accused of negligent homicide resulting from an exorcism gone bad. Really, unless you lived it yourself, how do you actually know what happened? So many made-for-entertainment movies are guilty of stretching reality so thin that it's difficult to trust the "truth" that is told to us. Some subjects are just better told as documentaries.

And Rose is one of those films. That's not to say that Rose is not entertaining in its current form -- it is. I'm giving it a marginal recommendation. But knowing that it is based on the events surrounding the Catholic Church's recognition of demonic possession, the way that the film unfolds does not give the story enough due justice. Instead of the model of reality that it's credentials claim it to be, Rose plays out like an overly calculated episode of Law and Order.

Tom Wilkinson plays Father Moore, the local parish priest who is asked to attend to the Rose family's 19-year old daughter Emily (Jennifer Carpenter) after her unexplainable behavior causes the college freshman to drop out of school. The university physicians claim she's suffering from epileptic seizures and extreme psychosis that can be controlled by careful administration of the drug Gabitril. But Emily and Father Moore reject the school's diagnosis because they believe it's a spiritual force that's tearing Emily apart and causing her erratic actions.

When Emily dies as a result of an exorcism performed by Father Moore, he is indicted. A young, up and coming attorney named Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is hired by the Catholic Diocese to defend Father Moore and protect the church from any further shame. For her part, Erin's been promised a promotion to senior partner if everything goes well at trial. But she will need to conquer her own beliefs, and the tough, hotshot prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) if she expects to win.

Rose is told primarily in flashbacks as Father Moore and other witnesses take the stand to recall the vivid and stunning details of Emily's life leading up to, and during, the exorcism. This superb storytelling structure is highly effective in creating a realistic courtroom experience. Information is carefully disseminated to us as if we're part of the jury. We know very little about Emily or the events surrounding her death prior to the trial, and director Scott Derrickson does an excellent job of keeping us sequestered outside the courtroom proceedings.

But, as much as this structure helps thrust us into the story, it also degrades Rose to a state of needless melodrama. Events transpire and new evidence is introduced on a whim, appearing out of nowhere only to smooth over the moments where the film stalls out. If I were on this jury, I'd have serious doubts about both sides of the case. In addition, extraneous subplots are introduced and never fully explored. These elements just get in the way of what we're really here to see: the exorcism! Maybe the actual trial did transpire in this fashion, but it makes the film look way too contrived.

Rose is complemented by performances that are all credible and compelling, especially those by Wilkinson and Linney. As for the aforementioned exorcism, it is just as disturbing and mesmerizing as you might expect. And there are even a handful of good shocks to keep you alert along the way. These scenes are certainly not for the faint of heart and are just a slight step down from the Linda Blair exorcism in The Exorcist. Rose is entertaining, but could have been much better had they left the primetime drama to TV.

I can't believe I paid to see The Dukes of Hazzard!


Comments

The Exorcism of Emily Rose Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, 2005

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