THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE
AN UNFORTUNATE THUMBS DOWN FILM REVIEW RATING
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE had an excellent start to what could have been a really outstanding upgrade to exorcism films of old (obviously I’m thinking about THE EXORCIST). But the ending had so many strikes against it that I nearly turned the movie off.
The initial premise of the film was wonderful, though, making it appear as if the audience would decide what really happened to Emily (Jennifer Carpenter). Showing back-story during the court case in which a priest is on trial for her death intrigued me. The courtroom drama unfolded with two aspects being shown: one moment we see the medical possibilities of what Emily may have gone through ("Was she an epileptic with a form of psychosis?"), while the next we’re introduced to the possibility of demonic possession ("Can an epileptic be conscious during a convulsion and speak Aramaic?") I was spellbound by the medical/religious dueling and I gave a bit of credence to both sides ...for a while.
Tom Wilkinson plays Father Moore, the Rose family parish priest, who was assigned the task of performing the exorcism by the local arch-diocese. But the exorcism goes horribly awry and "the demons" remain in Emily. She deteriorates and eventually dies ...which is where the film starts. We watch a medical examiner enter the Rose house and proclaim that he can’t prove Emily’s death was by natural causes, so Father Moore is arrested for negligent homicide for not seeking medical attention.
The Catholic church has an attorney firm on retainer and asks for their rising star lawyer, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE), to represent Father Moore. But taking on the case may just be the start for Ms. Bruner. Father Moore tells her that "evil forces surround this trial," and it is here that the film begins to unravel. Instead of leaving it to the viewer to decide what might have happened to Emily, the film becomes a heavy-handed treatise on God, sainthood, and excessive religious symbolism. This completely deflated any possibility of a medical diagnosis, thus ending any after-movie discussion about what the message of the film might be about.
Conveniently, Erin Bruner finds a locket on the ground with her initials inscribed on it, giving sledgehammer understanding as to why she decides to continue with the case ("I found that locket, of all people, and I guess it means maybe I’m on the right path"). Give me a break. Strike one!
Then Father Moore miraculously produces a letter that Emily had wrote before she died, telling everyone that because Emily was a good person, and made a tough spiritual decision, she "might be considered for sainthood in the future." Excuse me? Sainthood for one action? And what about the wounds to Emily’s hands and feet. Stigmata, of course. Wait. Stigmata? On a possessed person? Strike two!
And then we get to the sentencing of Father Moore and the ridiculous "recommendation" by the jury. Would a judge really, honestly, legally, consider that? Maybe. But was it believable? Absolutely not. Strike three! You’re out!
Had the film retained its "is it medical or spiritual" uncertainty throughout its length, I felt this would’ve been a fantastic success. But as it sits now, it’s just a pile of rubbish. What a shame.