Exorcism of Emily Rose, The

dir: Scott Derrickson
[img_assist|nid=921|title=Some demon keeps stealing my underwear|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
The makers claim from the outset that the film is based on a true story. The “true” story involves a German woman called Annaleise Michel who died in the 70s, whom her family and a bunch of priests believe was possessed by a bunch of demons.

Not just any demons, but the demons that possessed Hitler, Nero, and also Lucifer, who might have just been along for the ride.

The medical types, being the killjoys that they are, believed her to be an epileptic with schizophrenia. When she died, after nearly a year of malnutrition and weekly exorcisms, the authorities stepped in and charged two priests and the girl’s parents with negligent homicide.

The story is transplanted to the US, her name is changed to Emily Rose, the charge is applied to just the priest, Father Moore (dependable Tom Wilkinson), and the “truth” of the girl’s story is laid out for us, the questioning audience, to work out for ourselves.

That is, at least, what they would have you believe. The story from the outset leaves you in no doubt as to what they want you to believe is the “truth” of the matter. And in case you don’t get it, the signposts put up at the end put it beyond rational doubt.

Look, I am not completely surprised that anyone, demonic or not, would want to get inside a 19 year old girl. What I find hard to believe, apart from all the mystical superstitious crap, is that such formidable foes as these demonic forces would bother invading the body of a hick teenager who lives in the middle of nowhere and is studying to become a primary school teacher.

Wouldn’t it make more sense, if you were a big Kahuna in the realms below, that you’d go after a CEO, or a President, or one of the commentators on Fox News? Would you really, as the Fallen Angel, the Morning Star, the Shining One who defied God Almighty and was cast into the fiery place, expend all that effort in order to get a bumpkin from the sticks to scratch walls compulsively, soil herself and eat bugs?

These are the Dark One’s ambitions? This is the plan for dominion over the earth? No wonder they got their pointy tailed arses handed to them when they last tried to storm the pillars of heaven: they’re clearly all drunk and lead by incompetent mental defectives. No, I’m not talking about Iraq, or the KISS army, I mean Lucifer and his hosts, perhaps familiar to readers of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

All the same, I don’t have to believe in the mythology or spirituality involved in a story in order to enjoy a horror film about those themes. I don’t have to believe in vampires or the supernatural in order to enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Dario Argento’s few decent films. So such a requirement doesn’t concern me going into this horror film.

Except for the fact that it’s not really a horror film.

It is in fact a courtroom drama. The courtroom / legal aspects take up the majority of the running time, to the film’s detriment. I couldn’t care less about whether the priest went to jail or not. It’s called the Exorcism of Emily Rose, for crying out loud. We want exorcism goodness, not cunning legal argument, sidebars, surprise witnesses each more surprising than the last, arising from disclosure evidentiary proceedings, and the like.

Laura Linney, in a perfunctory performance with little if anything to work with, plays the lawyer representing the priest. She’s an agnostic. The prosecutor (Campbell Scott) is a Christian true believer, so the world is indeed turvy topsy.

The prosecution contends that Father Moore neglected Emily’s well-being by pursuing this mystical solution to her problems instead of following medical advice. The defence contends her problems were not psychiatric, she was under demonic attack and the medical treatments actually stopped the exorcism from working.

How convenient. The priest warns his lawyer that she too is now going to be the focus of demonic forces. Presumably because they’re really, really concerned with the outcome of the case. Because, you know, when you’re a demonic hellspawn, you really care about the outcome of negligent homicide cases.

She does come under attack by demonic forces. Always at 3 am, because, as we are reliably informed by Father Moore on the stand, 3 am is really the witching hour.

Traditionally for me it is the bitching hour, because that’s when most pubs tend to close and there’s lots of bitching about whether you should go home (if your partner’s there that’s usually what they’re complaining about) or if your friends are drunken reprobates, they’re urging you to find somewhere else to keep drinking.

And then, you’re not so much in danger of demonic attack, but more the attack of your stomach and alimentary canal spasming and launching the last bunch of drinks and your cheap pasta dinner all over your nice boots.

My version is far more entertaining than what happens to the lawyer. She just smells smoke, has doors slowly open, and gets antsy. Wow, that’s really pants-wetting material.

Emily, who we don’t really get to know, does suffer horribly. The elements of her possession and the way her descent into agony is represented is really heart-breaking. The continual screaming and physical contortions look agonising, the world she sees, and the way she suffers are pretty horrific. There needed to be more about that and less about the courtroom. The priest keeps saying that he needs to tell Emily’s story, again and again. Well, I’m still waiting.

It’s not a patch on The Exorcist. I don’t think any film, horror or otherwise will ever make the idea of exorcisms look as frightening and confronting as William Friedkin’s version. But it didn’t have to be all that.

It took a different and more boring approach, and that is the film maker’s right. They also were so concerned with claiming that it really, really happened that they didn’t stop to think how idiotic some of the statements would sound once people said them out loud in the courtroom. The words “demon ghosts” and “the medication stopped the demons from being able to leave her brain patterns” should have been expunged from the script with a machete.

The primary question of whether God and the Devil, with all their different names and permutations, exist is a good one for exploration in art. It’s primal, it speaks to our civilised and uncivilised history, coming from a place deeper than our DNA. The answer as to whether They exist is irrelevant, especially for the purposes of a film. The way in which this film tries to answer the question is sloppy, childish, ham-fisted and insulting.

The question should have remained: Who was Emily Rose, and what really happened to her? We get no real sense of the first part, and bullshit served up as a homily for the second.

Jennifer Carpenter gives her all as the Emily of the title. I’m sure she’s not going to end up in softcore titty flicks like Linda Blair did. I just wish she’d been in it more. Her scenes worked, no matter how ludicrous, because she was convincing, which is more than I can say about the rest of the flick.

The worst aspect about this film, the biggest problem for me, is that this is going to legitimise a lot of sick people’s delusions. But then again, with mental illness, whether it be The Truman Show or Judas Priest lyrics, they’re neutral triggers when the right chemical imbalance or personal history is already in place.

Whilst researching the German girl’s true story I found that after The Exorcist came out, the number of people confronting priests and telling them that they were possessed rose exponentially. I shudder to think what the ignorant and the mentally ill are going to make of this film.

The story is not so far out there, even for an Australian audience. I recall a case back in the 90s where a guy called Ralph Vollmer near Horsham exorcised his diagnosed schizophrenic wife Joan to death with the help of some true believers and a priest claiming to be an exorcist. They actually believed, after she’d been dead for a few days, she was going to rise again. When she failed to get up out of her grave, they were genuinely surprised, until they came up with the argument that clearly she liked it better in heaven and didn’t want to come back anyway.

Does anything good, including Hollywood movies, truly come out of this kind of deliberate ignorance? I think not.

4 scenes where a crucifix in an uncomfortable place could have improved this flick out of 10

“There are forces surrounding this trial… dark, powerful forces.” – Yeah. Right, Father Moore, The Exorcism of Emily Rose.