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The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Posted by martinteller on August 26, 2014

Loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel, a German woman who died at age 23 of malnutrition and dehydration after enduring exorcism rites for 10 months.  The two priests who conducted the exorcism were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence, though their sentences were suspended.  The key word in this paragraph is “loosely” because many if not most of the major details are completely different in this film (without doing more research, I can only assume the minor details are equally fabricated).  So we won’t judge the movie as a representation of the truth, even though it has fictitious “epilogue” onscreen texts before the ending credits.  I consider this a form of deception, as that sort of text typically implies verisimilitude, especially when the film opens with “Based on a true story”.

But no matter.  I’ve let other movies get away with similar offenses (Fargo) without complaint, so I won’t hold it against Emily Rose.  The important question is: is it a good movie?  Sometimes.  I like the novelty of framing a horror film as a courtroom drama.  It’s an interesting way of letting the story be told.  However, the side effect is that it’s not quite as effective in either genre.  The scares are good, the horror is unsettling… but these moments are too few and far between.  A lot of the horror is front-loaded.  The courtroom drama aspect often gets mired in cliché.  What results is a hybrid that works in the sense that it builds tension and dread in an unusual way, but too often feels somewhat sleepy and plodding.  The visual style — misty and gray — lends to the spookiness, but also sucks some of the life out of the film.

Still, there are strong performances by Laura Linney and especially Tom Wilkinson.  And Jennifer Carpenter’s physical performance is shocking, bordering on miraculous in places.  She gives Linda Blair a run for her money.  The legal implications of the situation are intriguing, and the difficulty of Linney’s case is emphasized eloquently.  And when the horror hits home, it is genuinely scary.  I wish it all cohered into a more exciting and gripping whole, but there are some positive elements and noble efforts.  Just don’t go looking for a “true story” here.  Rating: Fair (67)

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