Hippo Manchester
September 15, 2005

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose (PG-13)
by Amy Diaz

A priest tries to argue in court that the devil made him do it when an exorcism fails to save the life of a devout young girl in The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose makes a case for a seldom used way to save stupid movies — put good actors in them. The movie, inspired by a true story though it may be, is undeniably silly. Demons are almost always silly, especially when they have chosen to spend their time living in the body of a girl who most resembles a scared bunny. Tom Wilkinson and Laura Linney, however, are good actors. They are smart and adaptable, able to bring nuance to roles that may not have had any and willing to put effort into a movie even when they must know that it’s not headed for great things. Good actors (as opposed to famous actors) won’t get you extra press but they will make the movie experience a little less painful for your ticket-buyers.

And, ultimately, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is not painful, except, perhaps for Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). Emily was part of a deeply Catholic family with something like 900 daughters all clad in modest skirts and minding their parents at their creepy looking farmhouse. Emily wanted to be a school teacher, however, so she got herself a scholarship to the big city and headed to the cauldron of sin that is a university where she went to a dance and talked to a boy. Sometime during her freshman year, she wakes at night to find herself surrounded by spooky noises, falling objects and the sense that a presence was trying to invade her. (Which, kids, is why we lock our doors during frat parties.) Eventually, Emily winds up in the hospital with what the doctors believe is epilepsy and what she believes is possession. She returns to her family’s home where Father Moore (Wilkinson) believes her story of demon possession and sets about trying to cure her soul. He eventually performs an exorcism on her and, along the way, advises her to stop taking a drug that her doctors have suggested as a cure for the disease they’ve diagnosed.

It’s that last point that will prove to be problematic for Moore when Emily dies. He’s charged with being criminally negligent in her death and the Archdiocese, hoping to spare itself further embarrassment, hires hotshot defense attorney Erin Bruner (Linney) to cut a deal for him.

Moore, naturally, wants no deal and wants merely to tell Emily’s story. Erin wants to win a promotion by winning a seemingly unwinable case but finds herself slowly drawn into questions of faith.

Ancient religious traditions, beliefs and superstitions, especially of the Catholic variety, always make entertaining movie fodder. (In fact, if you think about it, it nearly has to be Catholic — those nose-to-the-grindstone Protestant rebellions against Vatican flamboyance really made it hard for their religions to be at the center of complex plots and supernatural tales.) And, you know, demons are fun — especially demons that claim some great historical legacy.

Much in the same way and for roughly the same reasons, the American legal system is a great prop for your stories. It brings all the characters together to tell their stories. It makes it easy to explain why you have people unfamiliar with past events around and gives the movie excuse to lay on the exposition. And there are plenty of great hocus pocus machinations to the legal system that allow for the unexpected.

The movie succeeds at bringing these two elements together even if it doesn’t necessarily succeed at doing it well all of the time. Just as the movie leans heavily on the natural talents of its two leads, it thoroughly digs through the collection of exorcism spectacles and courtroom clichés to pull out as much entertainment value as possible without doing anything original with the subjects.

Not a serious drama nor a fear-inducing horror movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is nonetheless a very adequate Halloween fun film for those who watch at least two of the daily showings of Law & Order.