Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Colm Feore, Jennifer Carpenter
Director:  Scott Derrickson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreem 2.40:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  119 Minutes
Release Date:  December 20, 2005

"Who are you, demon?  TELL ME YOUR NAME!"


Film ****

In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, we find the ultimate combination:  it's an unsettling horror film and a tense courtroom drama in one.  Then consider it's based on a true story and an actual court case, and you have a supreme achievement.  This is a movie that will frighten, engross, and move you all at the same time.  It will have you thinking about it long afterwards.  In fact, it may seriously challenge what you think you know.  How many movies can say all of those things?

The court case is a trial for negligent homicide, and the defendant is Father Richard Moore (Wilkinson).  The charge:  causing the death of young Emily Rose (Carpenter) via a ritual Catholic exorcism.  Doctors believed she suffered a rare mental disorder; psychosis triggered by epilepsy.  Emily, her family and Father Moore came to believe hers was a genuine case of demonic possession.  The doctors prescribed her medicine for her condition.  Father Moore advised her to stop taking it.

His archdiocese arranges for a defense attorney, Erin Bruner (Linney).  They want the Father to agree to an easy plea deal to a charge of reckless endangerment.  The priest refuses.  He tells Ms. Bruner he's not afraid of losing his reputation or his freedom...Emily's story MUST be told.

The agnostic Bruner finds herself having to defend a client who believes in many things she does not, and against one of the state's premiere prosecutors (Scott), a man who DOES believe, but puts his faith aside in the call of his duty.  He brings medical experts to the stand to explain away Emily's strange visions and physical manifestations.  Soon it becomes clear that Bruner has one shot and one shot alone:  argue that the demonic possession was real.

Had this been a work of fiction, it would have been an entirely captivating and unforgettable story, but the fact that Emily Rose, Father Moore and the court case were all real makes it a movie that grips you from the start and never releases you.  Director Scott Derrickson has delivered a motion picture that dares to tread into some tricky waters of all kinds:  legal, psychological, and spiritual, and manages to consider all points of view before coming to what I believe is the ultimate personal conclusion about the matter.

The film plays out largely in present day, with flashbacks incorporated to illustrate memories and testimony.  It's a technique we've seen before, but to my knowledge, never to spin a tale of terror, or one that opens up the Pandora's Box of existential questions that many will find they can't close again once the credits roll.

In other words, it's not a horror film per se, nor is it a John Grisham-styled legal thriller.  It doesn't follow genres, but rather, uses them as a means of conveying what can only be described as the ultimate philosophical arguments:  do good and evil really exist?  Is there more to our lives than what we perceive with our senses?  And was Emily Rose in fact a tragically sick young girl whose visions were merely Bergman-esque treatises on the failure of the concept of God...or was her ordeal a universal wake-up call asking us to open our eyes to possibilities we've never considered?

Father Moore has his opinion of the subject...and frankly, so do I.  You probably do, as well.  People from all over the world have responded to the tale of Emily Rose, and come from everywhere to visit her grave.

Deciding the validity of weighty spiritual matters is certainly too much to ask from a simple film.  But the great movies can certainly stimulate us in a way that makes us consider what we may never have considered before.  The Exorcism of Emily Rose IS a great movie.

Video ****

This anamorphic transfer from Sony is flawless from top to bottom, beginning to end.  There are light scenes and dark scenes galore, and each one renders with complete clarity and crispness, and a terrific level of detail.  I noticed no undue grain or compression to spoil the effect.

Audio ****

As I always say, sound is crucial in horror, even if it's a different kind of horror.  This atmospheric and frequently enveloping 5.1 track is sublime and superb, offering plenty of dynamic punch in the right places and creating quiet patches of suspense in others.  Dialogue is well rendered throughout, and the frequent eerie uses of the rear channel will aid in keeping you engrossed in the story.

Features ***

The extras begin with a fine commentary track from director Scott Derrickson.  After that, there is a deleted scene, featurettes on the story genesis, casting and visual effects, and some previews for other Sony titles.


The Exorcism of Emily Rose may change your perception of horror movies and courtroom dramas...and frankly, a lot of other things as well.  This is one of the year's best films.


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