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.
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.