Jennifer Carpenter, The Exorcism of Emily Rose

I have little problem believing that there are people in this world who become possessed by evil spirits. I have a larger problem believing that the only movie those evil spirits have ever seen at the hellplex is The Exorcist. If the devil and his minions are so devilishly clever, why don’t they express themselves in more nefariously unexceptional ways, blending in with the neighborhood to wreak havoc?

The devil is strictly Linda Blair-era old school in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, an intelligent inquiry into the limitations of belief and faith as a defense in a court of law woo-wooed up with a heaping of religious-girl-gone-mad conniption fits. Part Law & Order, part The Omen, the movie doesn’t trust the audience to follow serious theological and legal discussion without a spook hook.

The story is, as they say in the Church of Movie Coming Attractions, inspired by real events (the case on which it’s based took place in 1978). Emily (Jennifer Carpenter, a champion shrieker), the tormented young woman of the title, leaves her family in Rural Devout, USA, goes off to Godless University, and becomes infested, one dark dorm night of the soul, by demons. She can’t sleep. She looks into the eyes of her classmates and sees blood and ghouls. Eventually, her torment drives her to drop out and return home, where she is first diagnosed as epileptic, and then as psychotic. By the time Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson, reliable player of responsible men) sees her, she is a ravaged soul in need of a full exorcism.

The approach fails. The girl dies. And Father Moore is charged with negligent homicide, represented at his trial by Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), an atheist tough cookie in a power pantsuit. The prosecution argues that Emily died because her priest ignored her medical condition. The defense contends — well, Erin doesn’t know what to contend. To explain her shift from secular doubt to a newborn faith in her client’s veracity, director Scott Derrickson and writing collaborator Paul Harris Boardman put the attorney through her own mild attack of spiritual demons. Linney doesn’t have to shriek and vomit, but her character does see strange doings (Lucifer loves breaking things in kitchens). Unfortunately, by the time she comes to believe in the power of belief, my eyes had rolled back in my head.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose
  • Movie
  • 114 minutes