Sunday, September 11, 2005
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
This movie is not The Exorcist. That is neither a criticism nor a compliment. Just a fact. Having said that, I think The Exorcist is superior to The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I wanted to like Emily Rose, and parts of it were good, but it was ultimately unsatisfying.
The story goes thusly. Emily dies after an ill-fated exorcism. Father Moore, who performed the ritual, is put on trial for negligent homicide. Up-and-coming defense attorney, Erin Bruner, is assigned to the case against her protestations. The prosecution claims that Emily suffered from a psychotic-epileptic disorder, which doctors were treating with medicine, and that Father Moore urged her to stop taking the medicine, thus leading to her death. Father Moore's version of the story is that Emily was possessed by the devil. Not the best scenario for a defense, but the movie makes it work.
The thing I really like about this movie is that it doesn't take sides. It presents both sides equally, so that each version of the story is convincing. Or rather, that either is believable, depending on what you bring to the movie yourself. Emily could have been possessed. Or she could have been just a very sick girl. I think the trial portion of the film and the eventual outcome are well-done. Good performances, good and plausible situations, good good good.
Where the film fails, though, is when it forgets that it's a courtroom drama and tries to be scary. I'm not talking about the circumstances of Emily's possession/sickness. That, too, is well-done - at least from an acting standpoint (though I feel very sorry for Jennifer Carpenter's throat nodes). What annoyed me was the arbitrary, pasted-on suspense. The overdone "scary" music. The concept of demons surrounding the trial and the whole superstition about 3am being the "Witching Hour." To me, the idea of an innocent girl like Emily being possessed by Lucifer is quite frightening enough, thanks. There's really no need for all the bells and whistles, as if the movie is asking you "Oooooh, aren't you scared?". I don't like movies that tell me what to feel. The scariness just seemed so fake, and when a movie pushes so hard to make you scared, it's usually working against itself.
Something I like about The Exorcist is that it never goes for the cheap, conventional scare. No chair-jumper moments, no villain hiding behind a door, no plot twist. And everything - even the absurd head-spinning - is played for realism. It's so rooted in reality that you actually buy what happens in the climax. As much as Emily Rose was trying to distance itself from The Exorcist, there were some lessons that could have been learned from the prior film.
But perhaps the thing that ticked me off the most about the film is how it tries to pass as a "true story." Yes, it's based on a true story - one that happened 30 years ago in Germany - but Emily Rose and the other characters in the film are complete works of fiction. Yet the film closes with a few "where are they now" credits, as if these people are real. And the film's website has a bunch of fake news clippings and pictures to try and add authenticity. I realize this kind of thing worked for The Blair Witch Project, but surely there are only so many times people will allow themselves to be duped by such a thing. A similar thing happened with the re-release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a couple of years ago. I heard people talking about "the real Leatherface", and theaters were actually handing out copies of the fake news article that appeared in the film. I mean, I know these are movies and they want to sell tickets, but this casual approach to the truth is just sickening. And it's a ridiculous way to promote a movie.
Anyway, all that was basically to say that, while The Exorcism of Emily Rose has its good points, overall it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. And a desire to see The Exorcist again.