2005-09-23 / Columnists


By Robert Snyder

At the end of 1973’s “The Exorcist,” the priests performing the ritual conveniently die, while the young girl victim lives, demon-free.

Not so in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” Based on a true story of a German devil-purging ceremony in the ‘70’s, “Emily Rose” has the possessed 19 year old succumb during the ordeal, leaving the priest to face legal Hell. It’s similar to “Dracula’s Daughter,” the sequel to Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula,” where Professor Van Helsing is arrested for murdering the undead bloodsucker.

Transposed to the American mid-west, “Rose” begins with the apprehension of Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), who saw the death of poor Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) after his harrowing attempt to free her from six demons. The story then settles into a courtroom drama, which pits two lawyers, prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) and defense attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), in a no-holds-barred debate about religion versus science. At times, the movie takes on the appearance of “Inherit the Wind.”

Directed by Scott Derrickson (“Hellraiser: Inferno”), “Rose” wants very badly to be an intelligent horror movie (is that an oxymoron?). Therefore, Derrickson inserts a liberal number of scare scenes, including a full-blown, fire-and-brimstone exorcism. The action ultimately focuses on the are-demons-real debate, with both sides offering expert testimony on whether Emily was possessed or simply a psychotic epileptic in need of medication. The defense argument is that the drugs intoxicated the girl preventing the exorcism from having any psychosomatic effectiveness. The prosecution objects on the grounds of “silliness.”

The acting is first rate, particularly Carpenter who contorts herself into yoga-and-beyond positions. While Scott is fine, he doesn’t attain the demonic zeal that his father, George C., does in “Anatomy of a Murder.” Linney carries the film, yet becomes a bit too emotional for a tough legal eagle in her growing sympathy for the beleaguered priest.

Though it’s more than a month before Halloween, audiences are apparently looking for a few shocks to their intelligence. Opening weekend “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” was number one at the box office, pulling in $30.2 million.

Now, that’s scary.

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