The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Exorcism of Emily RoseAlthough the word “exorcism” features prominently in the title, unavoidably drawing comparisons with the one and only The Exorcist, the exorcism itself comprises only about half of this movie, if that; the rest is pure courtroom drama.

High-powered attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is assigned a thankless task – defend a parish priest (Tom Wilkinson) who stands accused of allowing a college-age girl under his care to die. Bruner’s in a tough spot; her job might well be on the line, and she’s been told (by the Church via her bosses) not to put the unrepentent on the stand to testify on his own behalf, although he insists he wants his say and refuses any kind of plea bargain. Oh, and on the other side of the judicial coin is a devout lawyer (Campbell Scott) who openly disdains the good father’s actions, if not his beliefs.

The movie is quite harrowing at times. Through the art of flashback, we follow Emily in her final weeks; we see her wake up in her dorm room, terrified, panicking, anxious, unable to control her actions, culminating with an appearance at an on-campus church. Then, of course, there’s the failed exorcism itself, complete with her (the demon within her) breaking free of her bonds and jumping out the second-story window.

Turns out that Emily is possessed by Lucifer himself. How come no one ever seems to be possessed by a lesser demon? It’s always some entity everyone knows and is pretty much all-powerful. But that’s okay, because Emily (and her family) are extremely devout, so this becomes a real test of faith – faith that is, indeed, put on trial in the name and person of Father Moore.

Erin describes herself as an agnostic, she thinks, to which Father Moore tartly replies, “If you’re not sure, you are one.” And to be sure, during the entire ordeal her own beliefs are shaken and stirred; she doesn’t know what to think (and neither does the viewer), which is fine. We’re kept off balance and unsure of ourselves, just as Erin is, making the movie a little less predictable.

But as I said, it’s one’s faith that’s put on trial, really. If one accepts the fact that angels and demons exist, the movie says, then the actions of Father Moore are perfectly plausible; even if one does not, one probably should assume that Father Moore’s own beliefs are not shakable in the least. The main question, then, is: Did Father Moore allow Emily Rose to die by choosing to believe that his and her faith in a higher power would ultimately save her, ignoring medical opinions and treatments, or was he completely powerless to save her, body and soul, from a stronger, evil power?

For a movie that splits its time somewhat evenly between the courtroom and the events directly surrounding the exorcism, the sense of dread never quite leaves you. The court scenes themselves are crisp, even if the duelling attorneys come off somewhat shallow and predictable. In the end, the movie trucks along quite quickly, saving the frights for just the right moment. It’s no Exorcist, certainly, but it’s what you’d get if you crossed The Exorcist with, say, The Verdict.

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