“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”is a psychological thriller that presents both the scientific and religious side of the controversial case of the exorcism of a 19-year old German girl who has battled a terribly neurotic or psychotic disorder or a dreadful possession of 6 demons. It discusses the intersection of faith and science and makes both a person’s mundane and spiritual foundations shake.
This relatively gore-free film is an intelligent inquiry about the limitations of belief and faith in defense to a more scientific interpretation of things. Though the marketing of the film has obviously tried to ride on with the prominence of Linda Blaire’s “Exorcist” films, it is not exactly a rip-off. The flashback style gives justification to the courtroom set which paves way to a more solid ground of putting arguments in their own places. This validates the aim to make the audience think and really use their heads in coming up with their own judgments concerning faith and spirituality vs. objective truth and secularism.
“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” presents both the scientific and supernatural insights in the case of Emily Rose (based from the true-story of the life of Anneliese Michel). Overall, it is more psychological than the horror an audience expects for an exorcism movie. Unlike the usual demonic-possession movies wallowing in the gore of green vomit, 360 degrees head turn, and levitations, this film stays in the natural world with its own kind of realistic gore and trauma. But still, the subtle but striking supernatural and horror elements presented here tend to give goosebumps of another level.
The story evolves around a negligent homicide case involving Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) who has performed an exorcism to the late Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). Ironically, the church chooses hotshot criminal attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), an agnostic and ambitious lawyer, to take on as the defense attorney. On the other side of the courtroom is the prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), a devout Protestant.
Jennifer Carpenter is the major asset of the film. Her performance is incredible. Seeing Emily possessed as she shouts latin words in demonic voices, scratches walls with her nails, twitches robotically and falls to the ground so realistically, is absolutely terrifying. From her physical features to her acting talent, she is perfect for the role. Her twitching and snappy moves when possessed or when having unusual epileptic attacks (the way the doctor and the prosecutor see it) require great physical skills and are considerably stunts of great proportion. And they all turn out so creepy.
The subtle parallelism of Emily’s experiences to the physical manifestations of the dark forces on defense lawyer Erin Bruner makes an effective ground on inquisitive prodding of objectivity, insanity and spirituality. It adds cinematic dimension to the film without going too much. Bruner’s ending speech is commendable. Its content could have been a melodramatic monologue without Linney’s acting prowess. Tom Wilkinson gives a dignified performance as the embattled priest. He plays the character well as he exudes his faith in God in battling the dark, powerful forces surrounding Emily Rose even until the court trial. However, Campbell Scott’s interpretation of his role as the prosecutor makes him more like an antagonist. He could have performed the role in a more objective way and not way too antagonistic. Emily’s family and close friend Jason effectively stay on the background and yield to the story’s focus on the trial and the real reason of Emily’s death. The internal struggle of each character shakes the audience’s own physical and supernatural struggles as a human being.
This film is not for those who want gore Linda Blaire style. The scare this film brings doesn’t rely with horror stingers and music and physical gore. Its utilization of silence speaks even more. The devil‘s presence is simply a shadowy figure in a robe. The scare factor includes simple movements of door, flickering lights, breaking of glass, animals going crazy over the fear of the devil/s’ presence, and the most ones that rely on some visual effects are the slight morphing of images and human faces. They prove a real scare altogether.
Playing around basic camera shots and lighting, the juxtaposition of shots of Emily during the build-up of the possession and exorcism (where the demons manifest themselves in Emily’s physical body and mention their names) is really engaging both cinematically and spiritually – minimalist and yet striking.
As a cinematic presentation, it could have added some dramatic license to it but the good thing about the film is that it presents the 2 sides well. It makes the audience think about the possibility of a demon possession but leaves a room for one’s own judgment, whether it’s really a spiritual or a physical battle. And yet, it doesn’t end there. The film imparts an engaging issue in life for the audience to think of.