The Exorcism of Emily Rose (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
There are films so complex and multilayered that a single review couldn't possibly do them justice. They demand every nuance of the film writer's art to build and sustain a thesis.
And then there is The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which makes the writer wonder, why put more effort into deconstructing it than the screenwriters put into constructing it?
With that in mind, some scattered observations about a "based-on-a-true-story" courtroom horror movie that lends itself to little more:
Tom Wilkinson and Laura Linney, I hope you're enjoying those paychecks. The two Oscar nominees inexplicably head the cast as Father Richard Moore, a priest charged with manslaughter for his role in the death of the titular 19-year-old (Jennifer Carpenter) after a failed exorcism, and Erin Bruner, his defense attorney.
Wilkinson muddles through a role that calls for little more than shellshock and muttering about "dark forces." But what excuse does Linney have for embodying the ghastly stereotype of the ambitious career woman who lives alone, swilling wine while watching TV in the wee hours of the morning?
When Emily experiences nightmarish visions, staggering across her college campus watching everyone's face turn into howling death masks, I couldn't help but wonder: Did director Scott Derrickson get a deal on surplus effects shots from The Ring?
After a decade of "Law & Order" and other procedural fare, I'm guessing that far more American viewers can handle legal maneuverings that don't involve Perry Mason-esque witness stand theatrics or subtext-summarizing closing statements.
We might wonder about more practical matters, like why, after the tightly wound prosecutor (Campbell Scott) essentially ridicules the defense's New Age-y, exorcism-expert witness (House of Sand and Fog's Shohreh Aghdashloo) with an objection on the grounds of "silliness," we never even see him cross-examine her. Who's silly now, Campbell?
I mean no disrespect to sincerely devout Christians when I say that movies like this make Satan look like an idiot. Granted, Emily Rose does a nice job of leaving the matter of whether the possession was "real" or not completely unresolved. But maybe I'm the only one who would consider it kind of a waste of time for the Prince of Darkness to take over the bodies of innocent young girls.
And while we're on the subject of the horned guy, the movie goes to great pains to explain that much weirdness occurs at 3 a.m., "the devil's hour," an inversion of the 3 p.m. hour traditionally believed to be that of Jesus' death, etc. So does that mean you're safe if you're on one side of an arbitrarily drawn time-zone line? And does Satan turn back the big Hell Clock for Daylight Savings?
This is just one sloppy piece of movie-making. It shouldn't be difficult to make an exorcism scene scary without resorting to thunder and lightning and whinnying horses, but Derrickson succeeds only in making it nearly impossible to follow what's going on.
It also should be written in a rule book somewhere that one way to guarantee an exorcism scene will become positively hilarious is for the priest to be attacked by a housecat jumping at his throat. Also, a snake drops on his head. Bela Lugosi struggled more convincingly with the big rubber octopus in that Ed Wood movie.
I only wish I were making that last part up.
-- Scott Renshaw