Most exorcism films feel like a rip off of The Exorcist but The Exorcism of Emily Rose takes a different approach and manages to feel different yet give us everything we expect from an exorcism movie.
The story is familiar. A young girl gets sick and the parents assume it’s a possession and they call in a priest to perform an exorcism. What is unique about the movie is that it is actually about the consequences of the exorcism on the priest and family. The movie actually starts with the Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) dying and Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson)getting arrested for negligent manslaughter. An up and coming lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is hired by the Catholic Church to defend him. As someone who does not believe in the God or the spiritual world she is skeptical of his innocence but takes the case anyway to prove she is worthy of becoming partner in the law firm. The bulk of the movie takes place in the courtroom with flashbacks during testimonies. Erin starts to question her beliefs as she starts to experience strange things while Father Moore just wants to tell Emily’s story with seeming no concern with what will happen to himself.
What I love about this movie is that it is almost more of a courtroom drama then a horror movie. They take a realistic approach to the supernatural as the prosecution tries to prove everything that was happening to Emily could be explained medically. The movie succeeds in making you feel like you are part of the jury and keeps you guessing at the truth. It is very well written and directed. The other thing that makes this movie work so well is the quality of the actors. For a small horror movie it is loaded with Oscar Nominees. Laura Linney a three time Oscar nominee is great as Erin. We see her determination and ambition but when she has her faith shaken we believe at the end that whatever happened has changed her. Tom Wilkinson a two time Oscar nominee is always great in whatever he does and I remember when I originally saw this movie I was skeptical but he does an excellent job as Father Moore. Shohreh Aghdashioo an Oscar nominee for The House of Sand and Fog has a small part as an expert in supernatural beliefs does a great job. And Campbell Scott who plays the prosecuting attorney does a great job of playing that antagonist and is unrelenting in his pursuit of justice.
I also like how the movie ends. I never gives you a clear answer and kind of leaves it up to the viewer to decide for themselves how they want to interpret the events. The only thing I wish they did was give us a little more detail about what Erin does after the trial. She turns down the promotion but they never say why or what she plans on doing. But as Father Moore says at the end “Once You’ve looked into the darkness I think you carry it with you the rest of your life”.
Overall: 5/5 stars. It not only ranks as one of my favorite exorcism movies but one of my favorite courtroom dramas. I love that it can pull both off. A great movie to check out even if you don’t like horror.