The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Tales of exorcism are perhaps one of my favourite forms of horror because they carry that terrifying thought that they might just be real. No matter what you believe, when you watch scenes of an allegedly possessed person and hear what they are capable of it's terrifying, whether you believe or not.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based on a true story, and what makes this one even more terrifying is that it doesn't follow the traditional exorcism story, it mixes the hard and easily identifiable reality of the courtroom with the age old story of possession and exorcism, and terrifying it is.
The story is based on the real life story of Anneliese Michel who was a German Catholic who lived from 1952 to 1976. According to reports she began to suffer from seizures in 1968, diagnosed as epileptic she was entered into a psychiatric hospital and began suffering from depression. From here on she began to attribute her symptoms to possession and from there her life became worse and worse.
Eventually the local Church was involved and after seeing her began the exorcism proceedings. During the lengthy exorcism Anneliese died and the priests were prosecuted for their part in the events. Apparently she could have been saved a week before her death but the Priests continued with the religious treatment and didn't call for any medical treatment.
The Priests were convicted of manslaughter but received six months suspended sentence. During the case they played tapes made of the exorcism and it was frightening. Anneliese was screaming in different languages and voices, often arguing with herself. She claimed to be possessed by six demons, some of those names that were claimed were Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain, Adolf Hitler and even Lucifer.
The real life story already had me scared, but I love being scared through films so I watched it anyway, and I loved every minute of it.
This story is different to the original, but maintains the same ideas. A Priest is being prosecuted for not getting Emily Rose medical treatment and letting her die, he maintains that this was an exorcism which had failed and that Emily's story must be heard.
Emily is the girl who has led a normal but extremely religious past. As she heads to college and leaves home her illness begins and she is diagnosed with a new form of psychiatric problem. She is prescribed a drug that she keeps taking but doesn't seem to help and her attacks grow more and more frequent and violent. Eventually she dies because of it, but not before convincing many people, including the priest and the family, that she is possessed. Now the Priest faces a jury and an angry Prosecutor.
What you notice straight away with this film, and something that is carried throughout the movie, is that the shots are fantastically framed with excellent cinematography and set design. There are superb details in the scenes that layer on the authenticity and believability, and just pull you into the story.
One of the great features of the film is the horror and the scare factor, it isn't all big shocks and jumping scares, instead there's a strong focus on the creepy and unnerving with the feelings being dragged out through scenes rather than building to a single crescendo. This works superbly well and does manage to really scare you.
Rather than play the film for the shock treatment you see in other Exorcism stories, this film tries to take reality and push the limits just a few steps rather than go all out. So rather than seeing the victim of possession walk upside down hissing and screaming, we see her bend naturally and then have the effects pull the image just a few centimetres further giving a just above reality feeling.
This works very well, as we tend not to see events that could only be classed as supernatural, but rather we see events that look real but could have been misinterpreted by the witnesses. This adds to the ambiguity of the situation and keeps you wondering if it was real or supernatural, all the while unsettling and scaring you.
In fact the film is frightening from the opening titles, and the DVD from the menus themselves, and it doesn't really let up until after the film has finished and your mind has stopped pondering what might have really happened.
Of course what makes this story particularly scary is the fact that it's much easier to believe in it, and that is mainly down to the courtroom aspect. I've never seen a mix of two so different genres work so well, the courtroom drama mixed with the horror of exorcism, but work it does.
The courtroom aspects add drama and real world tension to the story, and continually make you think that perhaps there's a real world explanation for it all, that's while you encounter flashbacks to see how the witnesses worked through the exorcism and to see things from Emily's point of view.
For instance in the straight retelling of some events from a defence witness we'll see a flashback that shows the just a step over reality view as mentioned before, and when the witness is cross examined or there's a prosecution witness, we'll see the events as without any suggestion of supernatural behaviour.
This trick isn't overused though, and it is used just enough to add elements of doubt to your own belief and what you expect the outcome to be. The focus remains on the courtroom aspect and the characters telling their story from their viewpoint.
These courtroom scenes are very strong, helped in no small part by the superb talents of Laura Linney. She's fantastic here and shows just what a natural actress she is, conveying a very emotive and subtle performance as the defence attorney who really doesn't believe, well, at least when she begins the case she doesn't.
Campbell Scott plays the Lawyer for the prosecution and he delivers a good performance where his restrained personal feelings on the case start to leak out as he cross examines the Priest. The other interesting aspect to the tale is that the prosecution is in fact a devout religious man who believes in the law and is repulsed at what the Priest has been a part of.
The Priest is played by Tom Wilkinson and he delivers a great performance as always. When he finally takes to the stand to tell Emily's full story there's a sense of real emotion and his constant inner battle with guilt and desire to tell the story are apparent.
However undeniably the best performance in the film is that of Jennifer Carpenter who plays Emily herself. She gives an incredibly tortured performance that is captivating throughout. She really took my breath away and had me completely drawn into her character. I'm now desperate to see more and more of this actress.
The script has some very powerful scenes, and it provides the actors with a lot of great material. Coupled with a strong sound design we end up with a superb film that tells a terrible story in a unique, intelligent and quite subtle way, however it's still very scary.
This isn't your typical exorcism film and has been cleverly constructed to provide a fresh look on a well visited story and manage to keep the audience unsure of the outcome right up to the last moments. You even leave the film not knowing what really happened that night, that decision is yours.
Presented: 2.40:1 Anamorphic
The picture throughout was excellent, with the great cinematography and attention to detail such as the backlighting of walls that are in one scene contribute to a great looking film. This is reflected with the DVD offering which likes to keep the picture dark in the scenes of exorcism, but light up for the courtroom and present day scenes.
Presented: DD 5.1
There's not a huge use of the speakers in the film as for the most part we're in a courtroom, however during some of the exorcism scenes and the storm the sound does kick in.
Presented: Audio Commentary from Director Scott Derrickson, Deleted Scene, Four Featurettes
Scott Derrickson gives a very interesting commentary and quite early on says that Director's take too much credit for the films they make when there is so much in a script already. For that reason he didn't take a credit such as "A Film By...".
This is a real Director's commentary with some quite technical information about filming the scenes and the performances. He talks about how the scenes were made and quite often why it was made that way.
One of the most interesting facts about the film is when Derrickson tells us about the Jury. They were not shown the script day to day and watched the scenes as they were filmed. With the verdict scene being filmed last, the Jury were prepared without knowning the result and the actress who played the Judge polled them to discover the verdict. I won't tell you the result, but it is very interesting and confirms how well the script tells the story.
This is a very scary film that manages to keep tension and suspense throughout. It also does something extremely clever, it takes a careful step away from judging the story and balances between the supernatural and real life superbly well. So well that you never really can tell what really is happening, and this keeps the tension strong until the final scene.
Add to this the performances, great story and the look of the film and it turns out to be an excellent horror and thriller all bundled into one.