There are films so complex and multi-layered that a single review couldn’t possibly do them justice. They demand every nuance of the film writer’s art to build and sustain a thesis.
And then there is The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which makes one wonder why to put more effort into deconstructing it than the screenwriters put into constructing it. To that end, some scattered observations about a “based on actual events (that actually took place in Bavaria)” courtroom horror movie that lends itself to little more:
Â¦ Tom Wilkinson and Laura Linney, I hope you’re enjoying those paychecks. The two Oscar nominees inexplicably head the cast as Father Richard Moore'a priest charged with manslaughter for his role in the death of the titular 19-year-old (Jennifer Carpenter) after a failed exorcism'and Erin Bruner, his defense attorney. Wilkinson muddles through a role that calls for little more than shell shock and muttering about “dark forces.” But what excuse does Linney have for embodying the ghastly stereotype about an ambitious career woman who lives alone, swilling wine while watching TV in the wee hours of the morning?
Â¦ When Emily experiences nightmarish visions, staggering across her college campus watching everyone’s face turn into a howling death mask, I couldn’t help but wonder: Did director Scott Derrickson get a deal on surplus effects shots from The Ring?
Â¦ Television has taken the blame for a lot of evils in its 60-some-odd years of existence, but maybe the scales will balance a bit if it can hasten the death of the overwrought courtroom drama. After a decade of Law & Order and other procedural fare, I’m guessing far more American viewers can handle legal maneuverings that don’t involve Perry Mason-esque witness-stand theatrics or subtext-summarizing closing statements. We might wonder about more practical matters'like why, after the tightly-wound prosecutor (Campbell Scott) essentially ridicules the defense’s New Age-y, exorcism-expert witness (House of Sand and Fog’s Shohreh Aghdashloo) with an objection on the grounds of “silliness,” we never even see him cross-examine her. Who’s silly now, Campbell?
Â¦ The essential questions of the movie’s legal case'were the parents and the priest acting irresponsibly by treating Emily’s condition as a spiritual one, rather than some combination of psychosis and epilepsy as her doctors suggested'are the same as those raised for decades with regards to Christian Scientists. So why doesn’t one character in this movie ever address precedent? Again, thank you Law & Order.
Â¦ I mean no disrespect for sincerely devout Christians when I say that movies like this make Satan look like an idiot. Granted, Emily Rose does a nice job of leaving the matter of whether the possession was “real” or not completely unresolved. But maybe I’m the only one who would consider it kind of a waste of time for the Prince of Darkness to take over the bodies of innocent young girls. Now the Devil in The Omen who’s working his way into the corridors of power'there’s an arch-fiend with his priorities straight.
Â¦ And while we’re on the subject of the horned guy, The Exorcism of Emily Rose goes to great pains to explain that much weirdness occurs at 3 a.m., “the devil’s hour,” an inversion of the traditional belief that Jesus died at 3 p.m., etc. So does that mean you’re safe if you’re on one side of an arbitrarily drawn time-zone line? And does Satan turn back the big Hell Clock for Daylight Savings?
Â¦ Leaving aside for a moment the questionable decision to try to meld the trite courtroom drama genre with the even-more-trite supernatural thriller genre, this is just one sloppy piece of movie-making. It shouldn’t be difficult to make an exorcism scene scary without resorting to thunder and lightning and whinnying horses, but Derrickson succeeds only in making it nearly impossible to follow what’s going on. It should also be written in a rule book somewhere that one way to guarantee an exorcism scene will become positively hilarious is for the priest to be attacked by a housecat jumping at his throat. Also, a snake drops on his head. Bela Lugosi struggled more convincingly with the big rubber octopus in that Ed Wood movie.
Â¦ I only wish I made that last part up.