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In a rare instance, 1975 saw the Catholic Church officially recognising the demonic possession of a nineteen-year old girl from a small Bavarian township and asked a local parish priest to perform the traditional rites of exorcism. As a consequence of the horrific injuries sustained during the observance, the young woman died, resulting in the prosecution of the priest who administered the ceremony under the pretext of negligent homicide.

Exorcism of Emily Rose, The (The Unseen Version)
With The Exorcism of Emily Rose (director Scott Derrickson’s latest film after infecting us with Hellraiser V: Inferno) transcripts from the original trial are fused with eyewitness accounts to construct what may well be the world’s first courtroom horror flick.  

Lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is asked by the archdiocese to defend a priest (Tom Wilkinson,) who carried out a fatal exorcism on a young woman named Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) who had allegedly suffered from a rapid chain of severe physiological disorders. Although suspicious of Bruner’s real intentions in taking on the case, Father Moore agrees to let her defend him only if he is allowed to take the stand to tell Emily's story; a proposed action that the Church, afraid of further embarrassment, would rather the Priest not indulge in.

With the prosecution led by Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) focusing on the scientific and medical aspects of Emily’s mental illness and subsequent death, the defence astonishingly decide to take the opposite route and, with their own selection of expert witnesses, set out the extraordinary hypothesis that Emily’s tragedy was actually the result of demonic possession.

Watching this film, I was reminded of Hamlet’s comment to Horatio when teasing him about his steadfast faith in facts.

“There are more things between heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy…”

At its heart, the film is about the search for answers, a quest that is endless in its pursuit of the truth. With these aspects in mind, The Exorcism of Emily Rose works on two different levels; one as a horror film and the other as a courtroom drama.

Exorcism of Emily Rose, The (The Unseen Version)
While Emily's story of possession is told through flashbacks, the rest of the film follows the day-to-day happenings of the trial. This narrative device could so easily have fallen flat on its face; a tried and overused cinematic contrivance that was massacred by the influx of television shows like Perry Mason and Ironside. Yet, the filmmakers manage to pull it off and fill the flashbacks with so much ambiguity that it makes it difficult to fathom what actually happened. The film doesn’t try to offer any easy answers, instead paving the way for the viewer to make his or her own determinations. Some may feel unsatisfied or betrayed by this approach, but for this viewer I was wholly fulfilled.

Although the filmmakers do endeavour to take this agnostic approach however, this position, alas, is not carried through to the films conclusion and by the end we are seduced into believing something supernatural was indeed responsible. There are still questions left unanswered, but one does get the nagging feeling that for the sake of the film’s performance at the box office, they may have pushed the material too far out in the direction of the mystical.

That being said, the ensemble cast are well grounded in reality, and each turn in fine performances. But it is Jennifer Carpenter and her portrayal of Emily Rose that steals the show; a chilling portrayal of a young woman not in control of her body. The physicality of her performance is staggering, the abuse and cruelty that she puts her living corpse through is strangely poignant, especially considering she performed most of the possession sequences without the aid of elaborate visual effects. Why this young actor did not receive any recognition for her performance is beyond me. Carpenter truly is a talent to keep a watchful eye on.

Emblazoned in bold font on the front cover of the packaging, we are informed that this release is actually ‘unrated’. However, like many similar films that are unleashed on DVD apparently uncut, this proves to be more than a little misleading. There are no explicit love scenes between Linney and Lucifer, nor does Tom Wilkinson masturbate with a crucifix. The additional material amounts to nothing more than the insertion of colour post mortem photos of Emily as opposed to the black and white ones seen in the theatrical version, and an extended courtroom exchange between Campbell Scott and the truly awful Shohreh Aghadashloo. In all honesty, I’ve squeezed out turds that have had more supplementary material in them than this.

Exorcism of Emily Rose, The (The Unseen Version)
Despite my misgivings at the validity of this ‘uncut’ version of the film, Derrickson does pull off a film that is both inquisitive and frightening. At times, the script can get a bit flabby, but Derrickson holds it together, atoning for the sins he committed with his handling of the Hellraiser franchise, and turning in a remarkably mature work of horror cinema.  

Video


The film makes its DVD debut presented in an impressive 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer. The films palette ranges from the carefully restricted, muted colour tones of the courtroom scenes to the more filtered, kinetic look evident in the flashback sequences. There is the occasional glimpse of softness during a few of the courtroom scenes but this does not take away from the overall intensity of these moments. The aim is to give these scenes a more realistic look and feel and the filmmakers execute this well.

The flashback sequences are really where the video is put through its paces. With all the frantic editing and atmospheric effects, the image remains crisp and sharp throughout and the subtle use of lighting is conveyed beautifully.  

Audio


Again, Emily Rose is essentially a courtroom drama and for the duration of these moments, like the picture, there is nothing particularly challenging going on with the final mix that will put your sound system through its paces (except perhaps for Campbell Scott’s ridiculous, gravely drawl that he may well have nicked from Marge Simpson).

The Dolby 5.1 Surround track does come into its own during the exorcism scenes, with every one of the main channels being utilized to portray the multiple voices of the six entities that are supposed to be residing inside Emily. The moment when all six give their name to Father Moore is a particular stand out moment.

Exorcism of Emily Rose, The (The Unseen Version)
Christopher Young’s minimalist original score is eerily effective, recalling his past work on the first two Hellraiser films. Sound and score compliment each other well on the mix, despite becoming a bit muddled towards the end as the exorcism reaches its terrifying climax.

Extras


On its release, the film was generally met with a torrent of derision from critics and audiences, so the resulting DVD package is not spectacular. However, it does provide the essentials, offering a cavalcade of suitable material that delves in to the making of the movie.

The commentary from director Scott Derrickson is a stand-out inclusion to the package. A Christian himself, he pulls no punches when describing his directorial approach to the film and what the material actually means to him. In an age of lowered church attendance and unease about communicating our own individual beliefs, it was refreshing to hear a filmmaker talk eloquently about aspects of faith and the supernatural that spoke to him through the film. He also discusses the production process in great detail, describing his years of research into the Anneliese Michel story and his cinematic influences that include director Dario Argento and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The commentary is brimming with information and anecdotes, but unfortunately it does get quite tedious at times and perhaps could have benefited with vocal assistance from an additional colleague that worked on the film.

The single deleted scene shows Laura Linney’s character picking up a guy in bar before ditching him. The optional commentary gives Derrickson’s reasons for leaving it out of the finished cut of the film, reasons that when considering the film as a whole seem completely justified.  

Exorcism of Emily Rose, The (The Unseen Version)
There are three featurettes on the disc and you can choose to watch them separately or together using the handy play all feature. The first segment ‘Genesis of the Story’ (19mins 49secs) is cobbled together from interviews with Derrickson and producer Paul Harris Boardman, discussing the creative process and how the film developed from many years of research into a tight one hundred page screenplay.  

The cast also contribute to this segment but are given more space to comment with the second featurette ‘Casting the Movie’ (12mins 24secs.)  Linney conveys a real honesty when discussing the film, which makes for refreshing, and amusing viewing.  

‘Visual Design’ (18mins 59secs) makes up the final segment with interviews from the set designer and dresser, but the lack of supporting visual concept images means that this segment drags a great deal more than the others.

The featurettes work fine, but they don’t really engage on any particular level.  They have not been treated as proper documentaries, presumably so they could suitably slot into an Entertainment Tonight segment. Clips from the film segue into talking heads, and vice-versa. There evidently has not been that much footage captured from the set and so the resulting documentaries feel hastily cobbled together at the last minute.

This is a missed opportunity, considering the intellectual and factual aspirations of the film. I don’t understand why don’t they hire film school students to do these? The resulting documentaries might lack the gloss, but I bet they’d be a hell of a lot more interesting.

Finally, the package is rounded off with trailers for Into the Blue (2m02s), Mirror Mask (1m07s), Stealth (1m58s) and The Fog (1m36s).

Exorcism of Emily Rose, The (The Unseen Version)

Overall


This is a fine addition to a genre that has missed the mark on so many occasions. The DVD package is generous, supporting the film with a successful transfer despite the movie turning out to be a critical failure.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is nowhere near as ingenious or exciting as William Friedkin's The Exorcist, but instead it carves out its own niche, constructing an unusually thoughtful and insightful study into insanity and spirituality in the modern world.


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