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EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, THE (director/writer: Scott Derrickson; screenwriter: Paul Harris Boardman; cinematographer: Tom Stern; editor: Jeff Betancourt; music: Christopher Young; cast: Laura Linney (Erin Bruner), Tom Wilkinson (Father Richard Moore), Campbell Scott (Ethan Thomas), Colm Feore (Karl Gunderson), Jennifer Carpenter (Emily Rose), Mary Beth Hurt (Judge Brewster), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Dr. Adani), Joshua Close (Jason), Kenneth Welsh (Dr. Mueller), Duncan Fraser (Dr. Cartwright), JR Bourne (Ray), Henry Czerny (Dr. Briggs); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Tom Rosenberg/Gary Lucchesi/Paul Harris Boardman/Tripp Vinson/Beau Flynn; Screen Gems; 2005)
“Entertaining and sustained enough ideas to be taken in a somewhat serious light.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unusual courtroom drama, especially for a mainstream film, wrapped around being a supernatural demonic exploitation movie (The Exorcist) and a socially relevant true-life drama that raises a debate between medicine (rational) versus religious belief (irrational). It’s directed by Scott Derrickson from a script he wrote with Paul Harris Boardman. It’s based on a true story (the real name of the teenage girl was Anneliese Michel and she died in 1976 in Bavaria).

In the film, set in an unnamed rural Middle-America community, Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) performed a failed exorcism (with the approval of the Catholic Church) on a possessed 19-year-old college freshman, from a pious farm family, Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), and is now facing a negligent homicide charge that could mean ten years in prison. The Catholic Archdiocese wishes to quash the story by keeping the priest off the stand and hires ambitious, agnostic attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) to handle the case, hoping she can get the priest to accept a plea bargain. She takes the case after Karl Gunderson (Colm Feore), the head honcho of her law firm, offers her a partnership. The prosecutor is a steely-eyed faith-based Methodist, Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), sporting a trim mustache, who is relentless in his pursuit of a conviction. His best line against the defense’s faith in an exorcism presentation goes like this: “Your honor, I object,” Judge Brewster (Mary Beth Hurt ) “On what grounds?” He responds “Well, silliness, for one.”

Kudos go to keeping down the tackiness to a minimum, such as flashbacks to the exorcism that were drained of many of Linda Blair’s hysterics from The Exorcist but still had Emily eating bugs, tearing her hair out, raving like a lunatic in several arcane languages, viewing strangers as demons with a black liquid oozing out of their eyes, and scratching with her nails on the walls. The filmmakers are clearly on the side of faith but without a religious agenda to explain what can’t be rationalized, and make the priest a sincere man who knows the reality of dark forces and believes he’s doing good by performing the controversial exorcism ritual. The courtroom dramatics are made up of debates for science or religion. The science side’s main prosecution witness is Dr. Briggs (Henry Czerny), who treated Emily for epilepsy and schizophrenia and prescribed a medicine the priest told her not to take. The religious argument is presented by anthropologist Dr. Adani (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a believer that there are certain types who are susceptible to be possessed by the demonic forces that no medicine can cure (thereby believing in demonic possessions, something medicine doesn’t readily acknowledge). Though the courtroom scenes were academic, many relevant ideas were thrown against the wall and even though not satisfactorily answered they at least were intelligently constructed and encouraged further thought.

The main thing conveyed by the filmmaker is that it’s best to err on the side of tolerance. That’s a nice safe view that I can live with, especially in these modern times with Bush’s evangelical cronies pushing for intolerance over any controversial religious issue and doctors sometimes arrogantly treating patients with medicines that don’t work but are not interested in alternatives. Though not a groundbreaking memorable film, a decent one that tried to mix it up with a combo of seriousness and silliness. The uneasy mixture didn’t always work, but the film was entertaining and sustained enough ideas to be taken in a somewhat serious light.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”