Erin Bruner is a lawyer filled with ambition, who takes on the case of a Catholic diocesan priest who is charged with negligent homicide following an attempted exorcism on a 19-year old girl, Emily Rose. The archdiocese wants the priest, Father Richard Moore, to just plead guilty so they can scuffle this under the carpet and do as much damage control as possible, but Moore won’t have it, and pleads not guilty. He is determined to tell Emily’s story. Bruner then starts experiencing strange things on her own, like waking up at 3 a.m. to the smell of something burning. Moore warns her that she might have become a target for demons, and through bits and pieces we get to know Emily’s story.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose was written and directed by Scott Derrickson and co-written by Paul Harris Boardman. Derrickson actually chose to use Boardman as his co-writer because, with himself being a believer and Boardman a skeptic, he thought this would balance the screenplay with enough realism from both perspectives. And I dare say this was probably a very good decision, as the movie does a solid job on walking the line between religion and science, constantly making you wonder if she really was possessed or just terribly mentally disturbed.
The movie is told with some back-and-forth between the trial and the lawyer-related stuff, and flashbacks from Emily’s life. What makes this movie different from the plethora of other demonic possession movies, is its blend between courtroom drama and the supernatural, carefully balancing between the two and offering enough for both believers and skeptics to hold on to. The movie is inspired by the true story of Anneliese Michel from Germany. There’s actually another film based on this story, called Requiem, which is more based on the, well…actual true events. The young German woman was born in 1952, and died in 1976 after she underwent 67 (!) exorcisms. She died of malnutrition, and her parents and the priest were convicted of negligent homicide. Just like the Conjuring movies, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is best viewed as pure fiction with a few slices of truth, otherwise it would just become completely convoluted with thoughts of what is obviously invented for the purpose of scares in the movie, and what’s inspired from the true events. The true story was indeed a religion vs science trial regarding the aftermath, but the backstory of Emily Rose (Anneliese Michel) is very loosely based on what really happened. I guess in that sense, it’s wise to not even have the character named after her to make the distinction even more obvious.
Jennifer Carpenter, who is playing the role of Emily Rose, does nothing but a stellar performance as the struggling/sick/possessed young girl, and does so with some pretty chilling possession scenes that are bereft of any pea soup vomiting or head twisting. In order to prepare for her role, Jennifer actually spent hours in a room full of mirrors while trying out different body positions and facial expressions to see what was scariest. Many of the scenes where Emily is experiencing the effects of her “possession”, it is still very much left in the open whether it’s really demons causing it, or a result of her mentally disturbed mind. Feel free to take your pick on which is the scariest alternative.
There’s a ton of chilling atmosphere and a lot of subtle creative details that add to the creepy vibe. The actors did a stellar job by providing convincing performances, and the courtroom drama manages to add both suspense and ties in with the rest in a way that makes it feel wholesome. With the movie being a bit old, some of the CGI (which there isn’t much of anyway) is perhaps a little outdated, but not at all bad and it’s being sparsely which doesn’t affect anything negatively. The Exorcism of Emily Rose stands out as a solid and chilling possession horror movie which has aged quite well, and provided a well founded start on Derrickson’s horror movie career (with him later giving us movies like Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil, and The Black Phone). And no matter whether you consider the story as one of demonic possession or mental illness, the result is equally creepy and frightening.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Country & year: USA, 2005
Actors: Jennifer Carpenter, Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Colm Feore, Joshua Close, Kenneth Welsh, Duncan Fraser, JR Bourne, Mary Beth Hurt, Henry Czerny, Shohreh Aghdashloo