The Exorcism of Emily Rose fizzles on the stand.
Thursday, September 8, 2005
Audiences seeking the elusive rush of fear, the one that
William Friedkin so eloquently delivered in his bar-setting
1973 horror classic The Exorcist, will be sorely
disappointed by writer/director Scott Derrickson’s imbalanced
attempt at stirring similar emotions. Purportedly based on
actual events, The Exorcism of Emily Rose commences
just after the death of a 19-year-old girl (Jennifer
Carpenter) during an exorcism performed by a priest (Tom
Wilkinson) who suddenly finds himself the target of murder
charges based on his assumed negligence.
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE ( * * 1/2 )
Directed by Scott Derrickson.
Starring Tom Wilkinson, Laura Linney and Jennifer Carpenter.
(PG-13, 114 mins.) | At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Northridge Cinemas.
Father Richard Moore (Wilkinson) refuses to cop a plea and instead insists on publicly airing the girl’s story in a jury trial with the assistance of his power-hungry attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney.) The movie unsuccessfully toggles between snappy courtroom testimony and creepy flashback episodes that build toward an anticlimax that reneges on the stated promise of portraying the immediate circumstances of Emily Rose’s death.
Campbell Scott (Roger Dodger) is well cast as Ethan Thomas a vengeful prosecuting attorney with far right Christian bent to his strident personality. But Scott’s character off-handedly contributes to the film’s downfall by strengthening the overemphasized courtroom aspect of the story that should have been relegated to a subplot instead of a flip side to the exorcism at hand. Derrickson deflates the film’s gloomy tension of prevailing horror every time he abandons Father Moore’s flashbacks of attempting to exorcise a demon that identifies itself as Satan from the helpless girl.
Lacking too is a sufficient strength of presence from newcomer Jennifer Carpenter (White Chicks) whose Emily Rose character is severely underdeveloped, especially as compared with Linda Blair’s Regan in Friedkin’s Exorcist. Make-up and visual effects designer Keith Vanderlaan is partially to blame for not going far enough with his designs toward creating a complete physical transformation for Emily.
Yet the exorcism sequences carry a pragmatic approach that gives them a literal and believable air of authenticity that bristles with goose bump-raising capacity. It’s clear that Derrickson and co-scriptwriter Paul Harris Boardman have transposed accurate language and events from factual exorcisms and yet don’t allocate additional dramatic and artistic license to properly pressurize the scenes with hostility, suspense and blood-curdling fear. The film returns so regularly back to courtroom banter over science and demonic possession that it seems the writers were scared to dig into the dark reality of their own material.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose must inevitably be compared to The Exorcist, and pales drastically in the process. The problem is that too much attention is given to the trial of a priest whose future is already irrelevant because he’s already damaged goods.
The epithet of The Exorcist as the ‘scariest movie ever made’ is secure until some overtly ambitious filmmaker dares to flirt so dangerously with demonic evil that it strangely affects an audience’s five senses. The Exorcism of Emily Rose merely provides a whiff of monolithic horror.