The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Laura Linney, Jennifer Carpenter, Campbell Scott

Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Rating: 1 2 3

Laura Linney as Erin Bruner in The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is marketed as a horror film, complete with suitably scary, jumpy trailer and eerie poster. Marketing, however, can be misleading. The film is in fact more a courtroom drama, with the odd bit of (fairly lame) horror thrown in for good measure.

Based on true events, the film tells the story of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), a sensitive college student from the American sticks, who believes she is possessed by demons. Rejecting the epilepsy drugs prescribed by her doctor, she instead places her life in the hands of the family priest, Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), who also believes that her condition has spiritual rather than physical causes. And yet, after an unsuccessful exorcism, Emily Rose dies, and Father Moore is arrested and charged with negligent homicide. Step up hotshot lawyer Erin Bruner (the ever likeable Laura Linney) a self-professed 'woman of doubt' who soon finds herself wondering if there is, after all, more to this heaven and hell thing than she thought. Dot, dot, dot.

Scream until you like it... Jennifer Carpenter as Emily Rose

So far so corny, but don't get me wrong, the film does have its moments. The courtroom scenes are intelligent and compelling, and the moments when we witness Emily Rose's possession, really quite horrific. No pea soup spew or levitating here, but Jennifer Carpenter has a fine line in sickening screaming, blank eyes rolling and tortured, twisted spinal gymnastics. A pity, then, that we saw all her finest moments in the trailer.

However, I could have done without the many tedious 'waking at 3am to spooky whispering' moments - face it, dark corridors and thunderstorms really aren't that frightening - and even a sterling actor like Tom Wilkinson can't get away with the crass lines that poor Father Moore is saddled with: 'There are dark forces surrounding this trial,' he intones, sounding like a cross between Obi Wan Kenobi and Professor Dumbledore. 'You must take care.' Then there's the rubbish CGI and the somewhat obvious, Omen-esque 'death of key witness' scene too. We saw it coming a mile off - just a shame the witness didn't.

Tom Wilkinson as Father Richard Moore in The Exorcism of Emily Rose

An uneven film, then, but not an uninteresting one. It certainly raises some fascinating questions - the principal one for me being, why does the devil bother? If you were the Prince of Darkness, would you want to possess a powerless college girl, destroy her body and soul then feebly taunt her priest and, um, his lawyer, by waking them up at three in the morning opening and shutting doors? Strange.

As the film draws to a close we discover that Emily, a deeply religious Catholic, believed that her terrible ordeal had a purpose: to prove to our blinkered, secular society that demons really exist. Father Moore risks years of imprisonment in order to make her story public, yet the film itself sits on the fence, refusing to commit itself either way. This may seem unfair, but it also reflects the story of the real Emily Rose, who was actually German and called Anneliese Michel (you can read about her here). No-one will ever know for sure if Emily/Anneliese was really possessed, but the possibility that she might have been is enough to wake me up at three in morning. Can you smell burning? Oh, crap...

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