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Photograph by Jerome Prebois

We Didn't Promise Emily A Rose Garden: Jennifer Carpenter endures a bad-hair day when she gets possessed in 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose.'


'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' attempts adult horror but relies on too much kid stuff

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

IT IS GOOD that studios and filmmakers are trying to tap into that as-yet-untapped resource: adult moviegoers. Unfortunately, they've been making movies for teenagers for so long they seem to have forgotten how to appeal to older audiences. This year alone, we've had Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter and Fernando Meirelles' The Constant Gardener, both of which tried to marry romance, intrigue and social commentary and both of which quickly led to divorce proceedings.

In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, director Scott Derrickson tries to pare things down by doing away with the romance part, but he fills the void by reaching right back into the bag of kiddie tricks. Laura Linney stars as Erin Bruner, a lawyer hot from her victory on a high-profile murder trial. She immediately gets the job of defending Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), a priest who tried to perform an exorcism on a young woman, Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), and is now being blamed for her death.

The bulk of the film takes place in the courtroom, where a jury is asked to decide between science and the supernatural. The jury may have a hard time settling, but writer/director Derrickson makes it easy for us by painting the opposing counsel (Campbell Scott) as a callous jerk. We can't help but root for Erin.

Linney adds a great deal of weight with her talent and presence. Ironically, this is her richest role since perhaps You Can Count on Me (2000), and it's the first time in years she hasn't played someone's wife, shuffled off to the shadows. Here, she is sexy, single and stubbornly intelligent. She drinks lots of martinis, walks around with alluring dark eyeliner and doesn't seem too scared when things start banging around her house in the middle of the night.

At some point, Derrickson or the studio heads (or maybe both) decided that their movie needed more than just courtroom scenes—it needed ghosts too. But the director goes the old-fashioned route of cranking up the soundtrack, making stuff jump out from behind doorways or suddenly cutting to a screeching cat. Occasionally, some of the spooky faces work, but the scares are strictly routine, tricks from the usual teenage fare. Even House of Wax was more frightening.

Apparently based on a true story, the ultimate point of the film is to get the audience thinking about whether such things are possible. The opposing counsel claims that Emily was in need of medical treatment, that her "possession" was merely a severe form of epilepsy. But our heroes try to prove that her unwanted demons were indeed within the realm of possibility, that science does not really have the answer for everything.

That's interesting material, but wouldn't a documentary about the "real" Emily Rose—a young German woman named Anneliese Michel, who died in 1976—have been far more potent and, frankly, grown-up? If Emily/Anneliese suffered so that her story could be told, how would she feel if she saw that this half-baked Hollywood cream puff was the conduit?

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (PG-13, 114 min.), directed by Scott Derrickson and written by Paul Harris Boardman and Derrickson, photographed by Tom Stern and starring Laura Linney, Campbell Scott, Tom Wilkinson and Jennifer Carpenter, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the September 7-13, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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