I like director Scott Derrikson. Even though he gave us the appalling remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still (which at least had Keanu Reeves in it, if nothing else). His first feature film remains one of the best of the many Hellraiser sequels (Hellraiser: Inferno) and he has since delivered some fine entertainment in both the horror world (this film and Sinister spring to mind) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (where he was chosen to helm the kaleidoscopic Doctor Strange movie, and may currently be working on the next one). But I remember this film being the one that seemed to mark him out as someone to watch.
The core of the tale involves a priest (Father Moore, played by Tom Wilkinson) who is on trial for causing the death of a young woman (Emily Rose, played by Jennifer Carpenter) during an exorcism that the more rational-minded prosecution team (led by a man named Ethan Thomas, played by Campbell Scott) believe was completely unnecessary. Can the main defence attorney (Erin Bruner, played by Laura Linney) make any kind of case that won't be scoffed at by the jury and dismissed by the judge (Mary Beth Hurt)? Perhaps it would be easier if Father Moore wasn't sticking quite so rigidly to his truthful view of the events.
Although an undoubtedly polished and well-crafted supernatural tale, it's hard to deny the fact that this was effectively marketed with the "based on a true story" angle. Anneliese Michel was a young German woman who spent the last year of her short life being the subject of attempted exorcism procedures. Her death, at the age of just 23, led to a court case against her parents and the two priests. The Exorcism Of Emily Rose may well contain enough similarities to justify the tag, certainly more than some other horror movies that have misused the credit, but it's also very happy to diverge from the truth whenever the opportunity arises to add some tension and scares.
Derrickson, who also co-wrote the movie with Paul Harris Boardman, balances things nicely between an atmosphere of dread and one that is more believable. Viewers see how Emily is viewing the world, and how others are at times viewing her, and that is often followed up by prosecution statements that provide a more grounded, alternative, explanation for what initially seems to be impossible to describe as anything other than supernatural.
Wilkinson is excellent in his role, consistently managing to portray his character with faith and trust in the truth being on his side, without ever becoming unlikable or irritating. Linney and Scott are both typical attorneys, and both do very good work, even while constrained by a number of cliches. It would be easy to dismiss the performance from Carpenter if it was nothing more than a bag of tics and pained expressions, which is how it feels in some scenes, but she brings much more to the role, not least of which is a physicality that allows her to contort her body in some of the more disturbing moments in the movie.
There's nothing wrong with this film. It is, from start to finish, a decent bit of entertainment that gives viewers something to think about, while also scattering some decent scares (and FX work) throughout. It's just one of those mainstream hits that I never quite understood ALL the love for, because there was a time when this seemed to top a lot of lists from people recommending their favourite horror movies to others, even if I can't think of anything majorly negative to hold against it.
You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.