The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

(On Cable TV, May 2016) I will admit it: I expected far worse from The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and I’m pleasantly surprised at the result. Keeping in mind that expectations may be the key to good reviews, there is something fascinating in the way this film blends a courtroom procedural and religious possession horror, cleverly allowing dual versions of events to be shown on-screen. (Of course, as with nearly all horror movies, the paranormal version is far more compelling—otherwise why are we watching it?) This unusual sensibility helps explain why the film can boast of such a good cast, from Laura Linney’s conflicted lawyer protagonist to Tom Wilkinson as a tortured priest, with a good supporting turns by relative newcomer Jennifer Carpenter in the title role. Considering director Scott Derrickson’s subsequent filmography, we can already see in The Exorcism of Emily Rose the atmospheric conviction that would elevate many of his later films. It’s certainly enough to paper over the script’s overly dramatic manifestations of evil that would strike many as ridiculous. Still, this film’s biggest strength is to do the usual in a slightly unusual way, almost hiding behind the trappings of a legal thriller to blur the shape of its horror thrills. It does manage to keep audiences interested, which is more than we can say about many other similar movies. The tension between rationality and the supernatural is explored competently—just don’t pay too much attention to the claims that it’s based on a true story. Now popping up late at night on cable TV channels The Exorcism of Emily Rose remains a nice little surprise, especially for anyone expecting a formula exorcism horror thriller.

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