SHORT REVIEW: Even sans pea soup, this is the best horror film in decades.
This film was made for $19,000,000.00. Spielberg’s War of The Worlds cost $132,000,000.00. It doesn’t take massive budgets to make greatness.
The Exorcist dominated the notion of showing an exorcism on film much in the same way Bond is the only one of his kind and Star Wars is the touchstone for all space films. These classics defined their subject matter, and to even think of getting a foothold on their ground is risky business. The Exorcism of Emily Rose made me forget about The Exorcist (the best horror film of all time.)
This film’s revolutionary element is reality. Director/Co-Writer Scott Derrickson infuses a strong sense of the real into his film which only serves to buttress the horror. Exorcism and demonic possession is a serious topic and Derrickson has the intelligence to take it sincerely. His honest look at the subject is what makes this film brilliant. The Exorcist took its subject matter very seriously as well, but upon reflection took loose translations of reality. This film doesn’t go the pea soup and head-spinning route. It keeps its characters and their troubles within the realm of the possible.
Derrickson’s film is strongly paced and smartly presented. Through the lens of a courtroom, we are exposed to the strange case of Emily Rose. Emily’s priest Father Moore is on trial for negligent homicide a result of the young woman’s death. Since the film comes at the subject matter through this avenue, Derrickson is able to present Emily’s story patiently and to it fullest effect. The courtroom scenes issue explanations of what is to come and then we are sent off to the horrible world of poor Emily Rose. The continual set up and then showing of the scary scenes in the film is quite powerful. The courtroom setting also sets up a Protestant court convicting a Catholic idea vibe…luckily this isn’t pushed too hard. I’ll move on before I get into a Protestant vs. Catholic thing.
The performances in the film match the strength of the writing and directing. Tom Wilkinson as Father Moore and Laura Linney as his attorney Erin Bruner perform to their normal high standards. These two are continuously good performers who almost always manage to offer solid work. The star of the film is Jennifer Carpenter who portrays Emily. While she doesn’t get many actual lines, she offers very convincing renditions of being possessed and going insane. This may not seem like much but it can be very difficult for an actor to get this kind of performance done properly. There is a thin line to walk between scary and stupid. While filming, the actor must look like a complete idiot writhing on the ground or making funny faces. They have to give their full trust to their director and hope they are talented enough to keep them from looking like a moron on the big screen. Carpenter’s performance is striking in that it doesn’t seem forced at all. As with Derrickson’s direction, Carpenter shows truthfulness in her performance and that gives this film its heart.
Overall, this is a truly brilliant film that is one of the year’s best. If you haven’t already seen this film, you should. It is clearly worth the rental price. Outstanding.