Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) is young woman of devout Catholic faith and a seemingly normal college student on the outside, but she's got a rather unusual problem – she believes that she is possessed by a demon. Not wanting to spend her life as a tool of the devil, she examines her options and talks to some doctors and experts but it's all to no avail. Soon, her family convinces a local priest, Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) to perform an exorcism to rid her of the demon that haunts her soul, but sadly she dies while under their care.
As if the guilt of the incident weren't enough, Father Moore is brought in on charges of criminal negligence by prosecuting attorney Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott). These charges attest that he is the one responsible for Emily's death. The only thing he really has on his side is his faith and his attorney, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) – though she doesn't share his faith and sees things very practically. As the trial unfolds, the story of Emily Rose comes to light through an interesting debate that discusses faith, science, and the logistics of possession and the act of exorcism itself.
Based on the true story of Anneliese Michel who really did die of starvation after an exorcism in the seventies, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is an intelligent and thought provoking film that hits the right blend of drama, intrigue, intelligent debate, and genuine scares. The comparisons to William Friedkin's The Exorcist are, I suppose, inevitable but director Scott Derrickson (of Hellraiser: Inferno) has crafted a truly unique film that will stick with you for a while long after the end credits have rolled past. The way that the events that take place in the first third of the film are laid out and analyzed in the later two thirds of the movie may not appeal to those looking for a traditional scare-fest full of things that go bump in the night and crazed throat slashing maniacs but it does work in an original and intelligent manner. As the lawyers debate the case, we're pulled into the discussion ourselves and Derrickson wisely allows us to think alongside the lawyers as the case unravels rather than bombard us with the results.
With all the focus on the court room, what about the exorcism itself? Well, it delivers. The first part of the film does play out as a more traditional horror film would, as do the flashback's to Emily's ordeal. They're creepy, atmospheric, and full of strange lighting and imagery. The sound design for these scenes is also quite intense, using the surrounds to build up the effects and the score to maximize the mood. With that in mind, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is definitely not without it's horror movie elements but to label it as just another clone of Friedkin's film (of which there are many, most of which, quite frankly, kind of suck) is completely unfair. These scenes definitely pack a punch though, and regardless of how you feel about the direction that the film goes in, there's no denying that powerful moments like these punctuate the film very effectively.
Performance wise, we're in very good hands. Tom Wilkinson is excellent as Father Moore. He's completely believable as the priest and does a fine job with the material (though would a priest really say 'The game is on'?). As one would expect, Campbell Scott is also quite good as the prosecuting attorney out to get him – he's quite a bastard in the film and he does a good job of bringing his character's nastiness to the screen. Laura Linney's strengths lie in the way that she shows her character as 'strictly business' and it's the evolution that this character goes through that is half the fun of the story. She's good in the part, but the real star of the show is Jennifer Carpenter who plays Emily herself. Her work in the film is very strong and she's completely and utterly sympathetic and frightening at the same time. The possession scenes work as well as they do not just because of the skillful work done behind the camera, but mainly because of her work in front of it and choosing her for the lead was an expert decision.
While the court room aspect could potentially bore genre fans out looking for a cheap thrill (the look and feel of these scenes is quite dull when compared to the exorcism scenes, and despite the excellent performances they could be misconstrued as boring by those who aren't into legal battles or L.A. Law style entertainment), The Exorcism Of Emily Rose proves to be a very clever film that delivers some scares but more importantly makes you think about your own faith and your own beliefs. A little more background on Emily as a person and a little bit of trimming during some of the lawyer versus lawyer sequences would have helped make it a more enveloping film but as it stands in this unrated version (which restores three minutes of legal footage excised to trim the running time) it is a strong film that deserves the success it has enjoyed thus far.The DVD
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose looks excellent on DVD in its 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Print damage is a non-issue, film grain is present but barely noticeable and even when it is, it isn't distracting in the least. The black levels stay strong and deep and don't break up or pixelate at all. Very few of the darker scenes lose any fine detail at all even in the background and aside from one or two moments that look just a hair on the soft side, things look great. The lighter scenes and court room scenes show plenty of both foreground and background detail, the color reproduction is excellent, flesh tones look lifelike and natural and there aren't any mpeg compression artifacts to note. Some slight edge enhancement is present in a couple of spots but if you're not looking for it, odds are you're not going to notice it as it really is slight. The film makes use of a pretty wild color scheme (there's lots of orange!) during certain scenes and this transfer does a fine job of replicating the tone that the filmmaker's achieved for these moments.Sound:
Just like with the video, we're treated to a very nice presentation here as well. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix with makes very good use of the film's fairly aggressive sound-scape and if your receiver is up to the task, you should find that this track is very pleasing indeed. The exorcism-action scenes in particular have got a lot of directional effects worked in that heighten the creep factor and the tension but the dialogue and score always remain nice and clear. Some of the sounds that come out of Emily during these scenes are truly wild, and thankfully the disc makes sure we realize that. Levels are very well balanced, everything is quite even keeled and sounds just like it should sound. A few good jump scares are timed well and the mix does a solid job of pumping them up just a little bit to add to the impact but not so much that it ever feels contrived or forced. There are some spots where the bass definitely could have been a bit stronger, but otherwise, things are just fine in audio-land.Extras:
First up in terms of supplements is a commentary with the director of the film, Scott Derrickson. Covering many of the bases, Derrickson talks about everything from casting decisions to how he was brought on board to direct to what makes this a director's cut of the film (again, it's roughly three minutes of cross examination footage that was cut to keep the running time down and the pacing tight – that's really all there is here). He gives us some insight into the strange colors that the film made use of during certain scenes and explains why they were needed, and he also tells us quite a bit about a lot of the research that went into making the film as accurate a representation of the true story that it was based on as possible. Derrickson comes across as a very sharp guy, his insights are interesting and intelligent, and this commentary is, quite frankly, very solid stuff.
Up next is a single two minute and forty-second deleted scene that shows Erin picking up a man in a bar and heading home with him for the evening. Throwing this scene back into the film probably would have made it seem out of place and seeing as it doesn't really add much of anything to the narrative, it's not surprising that it was removed from the finished version of the film.
Up next are a trio of documentaries that take a more in-depth look at specific aspects of the making of the film. The first documentary, Genesis Of The Story (19:45) examines the origin of the film by way of some clips from the movie, some behind the scenes footage, and some interviews with Scott Derrickson, writer/producer Paul Harris Boardman, and a few of the stars of the film including Laura Linney, Jennifer Carpenter and Tom Wilkinson. Everyone gives their reason for coming on board, stating what they liked about the material and why, and this segment does a fine job of fleshing out the pre-production side of the creation of the film. The second documentary, Casting The Film (12:20) is exactly what it sounds like – an examination of the performers chosen for specific roles. Jennifer Carpenter is given the majority of the screen time here but Linney and Wilkinson also get their due. Derrickson and Boardman are on hand here to explain what it was about each performer that scored them the part. The third and final documentary, Visual Design (18:55), is also the most interesting as it's a pretty in-depth look at the costumes, puppets (yes, puppets!) and visual effects that were conjured up for the film. The production and costume designers for the movie are here to discuss their roles in bringing it all together and there are some really interesting behind the scenes clips in here that aptly demonstrate what they're telling us about.
Rounding out the extra features are trailers for other Sony/Screen Gems presentations - Sueno, Boogeyman, The Gospel, Open Season, Mirrormask, The Fog (remake), The Cave, The Da Vinci Code, The Pink Panther (remake), The Amityville Horror, The Amityville Horror (remake), and finally, Into The Blue.Final Thoughts:
While The Exorcism Of Emily Rose isn't the out and out fright fest that the advertising campaign made it out to look like, it is still an effectively creepy movie that does a great job of mixing up the unlikely pairing of demonic possession and court room drama. Well acted and very well directed, the unrated cut looks and sounds great on DVD, and a few solid extras are the icing on the cake. Highly Recommended.