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The Exorcism of Emily Rose   B+

Screen Gems / Lakeshore Entertainment

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Cast: Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Colm Feore, Jennifer Carpenter, Mary Beth Hurt, Henry Czerny, Shohreh Aghdashloo.

Review by Sean O'Connell

Here's a tip for aspiring actresses: If your agent calls with a quality script titled The Exorcism of Emily Rose and mentions you are being considered for the Emily role, pass on it. You stand to face an assortment of agonies that include, but are not limited to, extreme body contortions, abnormal head rotations and throat-shredding bouts of screeching that could wake the dead.

Just ask poor Jennifer Carpenter. She not only auditioned for the part of a 19-year-old college student possessed by demonic spirits, she won the role and all its fringe benefits. Congratulations?

To be fair, Emily is a pivotal piece of a tense drama that is being improperly marketed as a full-blown horror copycat of William Friedkin's legend, The Exorcist. While scary in parts, Exorcism actually works as a taut legal thriller that documents charges brought against Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), the devout parish priest who tried, and failed, to exorcise the demons plaguing Ms. Rose. She died days later, her body giving out after weeks of self-imposed starvation. Doctors for the prosecution, however, argue that Emily actually suffered from psychotic epileptic disorder, a medically treatable condition. Having introduced doubt into Moore's case, Exorcism sets up a multi-legged quagmire defense attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) needs to untangle before she loses her job.

The murder trial against a parish priest proves to be a clever frame for what could have been another routine demon flick (think End of Days or Stigmata). Scott Derrickson, a horror director who also penned the Urban Legends sequel, opts for a slow build to his chills over the shock-and-awe campaign implied by that harrowing trailer. Some might be disappointed to learn that Exorcism spends more time on a witness stand than it does in a church sanctuary.

The presence of genuine actors helps Exorcism gradually infiltrate our subconscious. Linney and Wilkinson are fantastic as attorney and client. Across the courtroom, Campbell Scott wears a permanent smirk and perpetual chip as he shoots holes through the holy man's story. The legal setting and deliberate tempo give Exorcism a legitimate feel, like we're spying on a Court TV special presentation that happens to be about paranormal possession.

Which way do you go? Fact or faith? Drops of blood on a barbed-wire fence indicate the filmmaker's opinion (it will make sense after you've digested the case), along with a few other spoilerish scenes. But the decisions aren't totally handed to us, and what's discussed after you leave the theater is between you, God, and Emily.

Review published 09.09.2005.

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