Wednesday, November 02, 2005

EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE: Thinking Man's Exorcist

(courtroom thriller)
Time: 113 mins
Rating: * * *

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PURPORTEDLY based on a true story, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a thinking man’s exorcist flick. There are no 360-degree head-turning or bile-vomiting scenes like those of Linda Blair’s classic.

Instead, we have a courtroom drama where a priest is on trial for ‘negligent homicide’ in the death of a 19-year-old college student after a failed exorcism. Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) is believed to have been possessed by demons. She has haunting nightmares, loses an alarming amount of weight, sees demonic snarls in people’s faces and falls into epileptic convulsions every now and then.

When her family approach the church for help, they send Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) to perform the exorcism. It fails and days later, Emily is dead. Father Moore lands in the lock-up, and the church, fearing bad publicity, wants its law firm to persuade Father Moore to accept a plea bargain that is offered by the prosecution.

The firm assigns their up-and-coming lawyer, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) to defend the priest but he would not accept a plea bargain. “I don’t care about my reputation and I’m not afraid of jail. All I care about is telling Emily Rose’s story!” the man of the cloth tells Erin.

Erin, being an agnostic, does not believe in demons. The prosecutor, Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), presumably does, as he is a devout churchgoer. The trial, however, is one of medicine versus religion. While the prosecution argues that Emily is dead because Father Moore had refused to accept her psychotic-epileptic condition, Erin must convince the jury that the drugs Emily is given had made her immune to exorcism — and led to her death.

Emily’s possession and nightmares are gradually told in flashbacks with Carpenter having to perform extreme yoga poses, eat bugs and speak in strange languages. Director Scott Derrickson also spices up the movie with supernatural occurrences that will eventually nudge Erin into believing in the devil. These scares are not the stuff that will jolt you out of your seat, but just weird enough to sustain our interest.

As the lead, Linney has to shoulder most of the drama as the gutsy counsel who must risk her career to defend her client. And she does so convincingly. Wilkinson, too, is effective, bringing depth and humanity to his Father Moore.

And what’s more, the courtroom drama does not end as predictably as you would expect.
You will go out of the cineplex wondering how much is the true story and how much is embellishment.


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