Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Movie review: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

More of a courtroom drama than an "Exorcist" type movie, the film was inspired by a true story and centers on the trial of a priest (Tom Wilkinson) whose failed exorcism results in the death of the "possessed" girl, Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter).

Emily had gone off to college and begun having strange experiences, including smelling burning, feeling as though she were being crushed when there was no one there, and seeing demons. She began to have fits of contortion. Eventually her physician diagnosed epilepsy and put her on medication.

Not seeing a result from the medication, she consulted her priest, who recommended that she stop the medication and attempted an exorcism. Emily died shortly thereafter from self-inflicted injuries complicated by malnutrition, and the priest was charged with negligent homicide.

That's where the film begins, and Emily's story is told in flashbacks. The reluctant attorney assigned to the case (Laura Linney) is hired by the archdiocese, who wants a deal and the case closed as quietly as possible.

Wilkinson is subtly stalwart as the priest. Linney also mostly underplays the attorney. The intensity is mostly focused on Emily Rose. Carpenter is very good as the possessed teen.

The courtroom scenes are taught, with the tension heightened by the flashbacks that are attention-grabbing without really filling in the backstory. The disjointedness helps drive the suspense along, and gives a witness' perspective that could easily back either the defense or prosecution's case. I would have liked to see more backstory and understand Emily Rose's history more, but this is a trial movie, not a psychological or procedural drama.

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