Dear God, I’ve lost sympathy for some dumb-ass protagonists in my movie-watching-waste of a life, but it’s not very often I become fit to burst with anxiety, hoping beyond all reason that the supposed “heroes” go jump into an overflowing cess pool and swallow some coagulated shit. Or maybe my hatred is for the script for allowing such a circumstance, mutilating its story, twisting and forcing it to contrive victory for main characters so smug I want to punch a hole through my television screen and still feel like the bigger man! At least I can buy a new television, can’t say the same for my minutes spent watching this stale bollocks. If I wanted to take it too seriously I might even call it slightly immoral; and in poor taste.
Sorry, sorry, I’m being angry; let me start from the beginning. The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is a courtroom drama/possession horror film from 2005 about a priest, played by Tom Wilkinson, who finds himself on trial, accused of negligent homicide, after performing an exorcism on a girl (Emily Rose, played by Jennifer Carpenter) who died in the process! He is defended by Laura Linney, who plays her character with a very unlikeable streak with extra smug and aggression on the side, and claims her possession was absolutely real; instead of her simply being mentally ill and in need of medication – as the prosecution convincingly suggests. This is where we get into my issues: the portrayal of the characters and direction of the story in relation to the facts the film is based on.
In the 1970’s, a girl named Anneliese Michel (a sufferer of epileptic psychosis) was subjected to a number of exorcisms, over the course of an entire year, because her family was convinced her symptoms were actually the result of demonic possession; none of this medical science crap! She eventually died and the priests who conducted the exorcisms were found guilty of negligent homicide; because of course they were. I could count how many people have actually been helped long term by exorcisms and faith-healing on one hand… with a closed fist! Or even with no hand at all!
It was after reading this story that I wondered why the filmmakers ever thought they had to make up as much as they did and ultimately devalue the film’s factual basis; because that true story should indeed be a movie but hardly like this. The issues it could raise, the themes it could explore, its subtext: how religion should get out of the way of medicine lest the vulnerable keep dying; that’s all interesting stuff and The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, to be fair, does try its hand at it. But it inadvertently negates the lot by the end; this mother fucker has its cake and eats it by making the whole demonic possession thing completely real within the film’s context while leaving zero room for mystery.
Any interesting questions the film could raise with such a provocative basis is undercut entirely, it’s one and only real concern is for all things over-the-top “exorcist”; anything else is just a pest to give attention to every once in a while. She doesn’t just shown to have seizures and stuff that *looks like demonic possession, oh no, she twists her body to bone crunching sound effects, is burned by a crucifix and even seems to command house cats to attack in one hilarious scene. The film tries to seem impartial and invoke deep internal debate on the subject, but none of it matters because it’s already made it clear that the time is definitely demonic o’clock!
It annoyed the living shit out of me, I respect Scott Derrickson but it’s like he couldn’t get out of his own way. He took a true story that required subtlety and respect for a girl who fell victim to Salem witch trial-era hysteria and was only interested the “cool” exorcism malarky. The only thing stopping Tom Wilkinson and Laura Linney from being the villains is contrivance, the film thinks it’s shaking things up by making her an agnostic, not defending him due to any bias or preconceived notions. But why are her presented arguments so infantile and nonsensical? If I was on the jury I almost wouldn’t even need the prosecution, just let her keep making her ridiculous cross-examinations (that even the dead Emily Rose herself could pick holes in) and I’d be convinced of Wilkinson’s guilt as if he’d suddenly started defending the Holocaust while doing an impression of a stroke victim.
There’s nothing about Linney’s character that makes me want to root for her, I feel forced to be on her and Wilkinson’s side so at least make them interesting or likeable. But no, her performance sometimes looks like that of a guilty person acting as their own defence; and Wilkinson made me wonder if prison really was what his character needed instead of an insane asylum. Could’ve just been his dialogue harping on about demons and insisting he take the stand and other such shite. But I guess the prosecutor character has to be told off for being mean to witnesses a few times so I guess that straightens that out; all this guy is missing is the odd smug grin at the heroes after making his arguments and he’d be perfect for a God’s Not Dead sequel.
I know you could just say that demons and possession exist in the movie’s world so why not just go with it? I’ll tell you why, because whether they exist or not – they’re still up for debate exactly as they are in the real world; and the arguments made in favour of their existence are still the same old tired ones I’ve heard all before. It feels like cheating, like the film hasn’t won me over with sympathy or interesting characters I want to see triumph over adversity or intelligence of any kind, no, instead it just throws the supernatural onscreen and says “there, see? They’re real, job done, now sympathise!”
The tone is generic, the acting is extremely meh, the writing is dull, I didn’t find it scary at all, although that could be because the other issues I had stopped me from really getting into it, and the hallucinations seen by Emily Rose are just really SILLY! I mean there are a few creepy bits that weren’t too bad and some shots I enjoyed, like the ones used for the posters, they were nice; and there’s definitely potential for a good film buried in here somewhere. I’m not as angry at the film as my tone suggests, I don’t think it’ll stay in my memory bank for very long but that’s the problem, it made no impression and when it could’ve it just did away with it all for the sake of exorcist nonsense. It did nothing for me and the execution of its subtext and themes fails completely.
Sorry Scott, Sinister was better. I saw this movie back in the day when I was young and stupid and could barely remember a thing about it. But there it was on Netflix so I gave it another go around, and you can tell me I’m looking too deeply into it (maybe I am), but I just thought it was a real missed opportunity with some seriously questionable standards. Not the worst thing in the world, just… nah!