Movies about exorcisms don't come along too often. Last year's "Exorcist: The Beginning" was hyped as the scariest thing since the 1973 "The Exorcist" starring Linda Blair. Horror fans didn't agree and "Exorcist: The Beginning" tanked at the box office.
"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" addresses a fundamental question: Does evil exist? The story is loosely based on a real life case of exorcism, an official rite that the Vatican revised in 1999 for the first time in more than 400 years.
Catholic priests have officially investigated more than 40 cases of possession since 1995. It's one of these cases that director and screenwriter Scott Derrickson and screenwriter Paul Harris Boardman came upon by chance when they were doing research for another script. The filmmakers were working with a New York City police officer who specializes in researching paranormal phenomena.
"The officer played us an audio-taped excerpt from an actual exorcism that was absolutely bone chilling," said Boardman. "He gave us some background on exorcisms that was just fascinating."
Derrickson was moved by the young girl's death.
"The questions that the story raises are incredibly provocative and I knew a film, by bringing the story to light, would cause audiences to ask the very same questions," he said.
"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" stars Jennifer Carpenter ("White Chicks") as Emily, a college student who begins having violent seizures her family says are caused by something supernatural.
When the family calls in their local priest, Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), he comes to the house and determines Emily needs an exorcism. Scenes that could have appeared in "The Exorcist," including a shaking bed, a tormented Emily spewing a lot of vile and the priest getting his due of profanity slinging from the evil being, are present. Something goes terribly wrong, however, when Emily jumps out the window to her death.
The sets, performances and intrigue were much better than anything that unfolded in "Exorcist: The Beginning."
The film transitions to a courtroom drama when Father Moore is put on trial for Emily's death. Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), a brazen lawyer, decides to represent Moore.
Erin has her work cut out for her with her client, as Moore insists he take the stand to tell Emily's story even if it results in a guilty verdict. He's a man who lives by faith, while Erin is bound by fact and looks at her case in terms of proof, not faith.
Ultimately, Erin faces off in court against prosecuting attorney Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott.) He gives the jury lots of ammunition against the reality of exorcisms. He, too, is a believer - but Methodist - which allows him to be sympathetic as a Christian, but one who discounts any Catholic concept of possession and exorcism. He insists the case be tried on fact.
Wonderful performances by Wilkinson, Linney and Scott keep the court drama intriguing.
Wilkinson is still not a well-known name among movie fans, but he should be. There's such a great compassion in Wilkinson's face, he could be a real priest. His character's nurturing of Emily, and his willingness to put her interests before his own, immediately endears him to the viewers.
Linney settles easily into her character, a brilliant lawyer who knows how to win a tough case, but becomes afraid and curious when unexplained and frightening things start happening in her own life.
Carpenter, a relative newcomer to film, was an excellent screamer, but lacked the talent to make her tough character believable.
If you're looking for a feel-good or really great movie, this may not be the right choice. If you're seeking a courtroom drama where religion and facts take center stage, or you are into horror and like films about exorcism, then it might be worth the price of a ticket.
"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is playing at AMC La Jolla 12 Cinemas.