“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”

By Richard Pulfer

“The Exorcist” certainly made its mark on pop culture, and the horror/drama “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is the latest indication of its effect. While the movie itself pales in comparison to “The Exorcist,” it presents a thoughtful statement about the role of the supernatural in the modern world.

The movie follows lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), as she defends Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), who performed a failed exorcism that may have caused the death of college student Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). The Catholic Church recognized Rose’s case as legitimate demonic possession, so a media frenzy surrounds the case. Also, Erin and Richard face otherworldly pressure in order to tell Emily’s story.

The movie stands on uneven ground, as the courtroom drama is more compelling than the horror movie itself. There are several genuinely frightening moments, such as the exorcism itself as well as Moore’s own encounter with a spectre. These scenes, coupled with Erin’s subtle brushes with the paranormal, serve to create a sense of ambiance surrounding the trial.

Several smart scenes in the courtroom detail scientific skepticism to Rose’s possession. For example, Emily’s convulsions, stiff limbs and red eyes are all effectively explained as symptoms of epilepsy. While the film certainly presents Emily’s case as real, the presence of scientific opposition serve to enhance the movie’s realism.

Unfortunately, lead prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) is one of the most insolent and bombastic characters ever. In everything from a time he lectures Emily’s father on neuro-physics to where he objects to the defense’s findings on the grounds of “silliness,” Thomas’ character is weak, if not laughable. While the plot is strengthened by the realism of the situation, Thomas’ presence only succeeds in dulling the conflict.

In an age where America’s faith is being questioned, “Emily Rose” asks some pretty tough questions. If the moral standard of the Scripture is to be held as law, can the phenomenon of demonic possession simply be discarded as superstition? While neither visual as “Constantine” or visceral as “The Exorcist,” “Exorcism” packs a surprisingly intellectual punch.