“There are no injections against the Devil”
Possession or Psychosis? Free will or doctor’s orders? Prayer or pills?
Director Scott Derrickson expertly walks the tightrope between supernatural scares and insightful drama to craft a movie that both frightens and thinks in equal measure. No mean feat in such a genre, but solid performances from Tom Wilkinson as Father Richard Moore and Laura Linney as his reluctant yet ambitious attorney add a layer of gravitas to what might otherwise have become a run-of-the-mill supernatural shocker. Jennifer Carpenter deserves a special mention for her brilliant performance in the title role. Her stomach-churning contortions and screeching profanities are a compelling contrast to the demure and modest family girl who makes her first pious appearance on screen. A challenging and far from glamourous role for an aspiring actress, and she rises to the occasion brilliantly.
Although probably a turnoff for hardcore horror fans, the sparing yet expertly imagined special effects produce their fair share of popcorn spilling shocks. This movie is a great reminder to Hollywood that sometimes less is more. Perhaps it’s the incongruous courtroom atmosphere that enables these supernatural scares to punch well above their weight as the story of Emily’s descent into darkness and death is retold through anecdote and testimony, both inside and outside the courtroom.
The storyline is further strengthened as Father Moore slowly becomes counsel to his own lawyer, warning that the darkness is already working hard to discredit both himself and the church. While initially sceptical, all her old certainties are overshadowed by doubt as she is increasingly haunted by terrifying visions herself. Although faith is still wanting, she is gradually overcome by a genuine desire to learn the truth, and to defend a man whose greatest sin was to respect the wish of a soul in his care.
Based loosely on the true and harrowing story of Annelies Michel, The Exorcism of Emily Rose expertly drags questions of faith, free will and self-sacrifice away from the abstract orbit of the bar discussion and makes them the central pivot around which the lives and deaths of the characters revolve. This very real examination of faith and freedom is excellently expressed in the relationships between Emily and those around her. The script wisely abandons the yawningly stereotypical fundamentalist father in favour of some far more believable family and friends. Emily’s folks may have lived by the Good Book, but the scriptwriters have resisted the urge to sneer at them for it. In turn the finished movie has rewarded their self-control with a solidity which is often absent in similar works.
This is most definitely a film which captures the vexed and dishonest spirit of our age. We entrust ourselves wholly to medical science, professing blind faith in that which can possess no wisdom. We exult the sovereignty of the self, yet turn viciously on heretics when that same sovereign self dissents from secular dogma. In a world where priestly robes are transformed into white coats, a man might still risk all if he crosses the Establishment. It may yet cost him his reputation, his liberty and even his life!