Starring Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, and Jennifer Carpenter
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
“People say that God is dead, but how can they believe that when I show them the Devil?”
So reads Father Moore from Emily’s last written letter to him. It’s been a hell of a year for the devil and demons. Possession is a phenomenon that has not been handled well in cinema. Since the original Exorcist every attempt to bring these diabolical devices to the screen has failed, and failed miserably. Even The Exorcist’s own sequels drop the ball by giving silly profanity laden rehashes of material that would never match the horror and intensity of the original. Fans have waited a long time for someone to come along and create something scary and original. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is that film.
Much like The Exorcist, Emily Rose is based upon a true story, and the depiction of truth can be more terrifying than any CGI wall-crawling demon or the feigned perfection of a super gimp. We’re introduced at the start of the film to a modest old farmhouse bathed in hues of pale green. It’s apparent that something very bad has taken place here. Something cold and evil. Everyone inhabiting the place has the same catatonic look on their faces. They’ve been subject to horrors that up until now they could never have conceived. Thus begins our journey down Emily’s path. A path that is paved with enough terrors to keep even the most jaded horror fans awake at night.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose works on two different levels: one as a horror film and the other as a courtroom drama. While Emily’s story of possession is mainly told through the flashback testimonials of eyewitnesses to the case, the rest of the film follows the day-to-day happenings of the trial of The People vs. Father Richard Moore, Emily’s priest. Father Moore has been charged with negligent homicide, and his future now depends on the cases pleaded by the battling attorneys.
Director Scott Derrickson and writer Paul Harris Boardman do a commendable job painting this picture. Films pertaining to religious beliefs can be difficult to pull off without seeming overbearing or preachy. An agnostic approach is taken to the subject matter,thereby letting the audience decide what they believe to have happened. This film will provoke a lot of discussion, and that truly is a sign of a great piece of work.
The cast turns in incredible performances all around, but the true star of this show for us genre fans is the possession aspect. We wanna see the goods! We wanna be scared! Having said that, let me make mention of the next true star of the film, Jennifer Carpenter. Her portrayal of Emily Rose is bone-chilling. You will be horrified and sympathetic. This poor soul is being tortured. It is conveyed in every movement, every spine tingling shriek, and every venomous glare directed at those trying to help her. Few times in my life have I witnessed such a look of soulless hatred as when Father Moore was dared by one of the demons inside of Emily to try and cast it out. Director Derrickson realized upon auditioning Carpenter that he could scrap the majority of the F/X scenes he had planned for the film. In his own words, “They would have just gotten in Jennifer’s way.” Indeed. As an athlete, Carpenter is able to contort her frame into some truly horrifying and unnatural positions. For the more extreme moments of rigidity and contortion, some traditional and CGI effects were employed; but I’d estimate that a good ninety percent of it is her. She’s simply stunning.
Unrated DVD’s seem to be a welcome trend as of late. As fans we all want to see a director’s original vision, and DVD is the perfect medium to do so. Emily Rose follows this trend, and the words Unrated Version are stamped right across the top of the box. This may be a little misleading though. Most fans when they see the word “unrated” automatically assume they there are some juicy tidbits strewn throughout the film that the MPAA wanted excised for various reasons in their never-ending quest to shield us from things that they deem too horrific or inappropriate. This is true in the case of this film, but the end result amounts to nothing more than the insertion of color post mortem photos of Emily as opposed to the black and white ones seen in the theatrical version, an extended courtroom exchange between Campbell Scott and Shohreh Aghdashloo, and a couple of blink and you missed it trims in the actual exorcism scene. Seriously, I doubt anyone would even notice the difference between the cuts as they are extremely minor.
Sadly, the extras side of things doesn’t offer much of anything else either. I was extremely surprised that there wasn’t more. Strangely enough, even though this film is based upon a true story, hardly any mention of the actual events that inspired it was made at all. Instead we get three featurettes that add up to about an hour’s worth of behind the scenes stuff, a thankfully deleted scene, and an informative yet kind of bland director’s commentary. While Derrickson delivered the goods, I would have rather heard him paired with someone than go it solo. Carpenter would have been the ideal choice, but whatever. At least we got something. Right?
Even without the inclusion of some more interesting special features, The Exorcism of Emily Rose should be at the top of your shopping / rental list, if only for the film itself. There are things in this world that cannot be explained. Forces that we simply cannot grasp. Why was this girl made to suffer? Was she possessed or just mentally ill? How come we can’t get more films like this out of Hollywood instead of the paint by numbers homogenized crap that we are usually served? Only the devil knows!
Deleted scene with commentary
Genesis of the Story featurette
Casting the Film featurette
Visual Design featurette