Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose

Ever wondered what Law and Order would be like if faced with sudden colonization by an exorcist and a body contorting possession victim? Look no further, because in The Exorcism of Emily Rose you'll find exactly that. Following in the wake of box office stomper Gibson's The Passion of Christ, is another religious revival fest. In this one, Scott Derrickson, manufacturer of moronic b-movie's like “Hellraiser: Inferno” moves into the realm of serious production and even bigger ideas in a rather thinly veiled attempt to propagate a Christian attack on secular values and scientific medicine while similtaneously stumbling through an obstacle course of classic horror conventions along the way. We get a cold snowed over landscape straight out of "The Shining", infestations of bewitched bees lifted from "Amityville", jittery handi-cam work courtesy of "Blair Witch", distorted faces and terrified horses left over from "The Ring" and psuedo anthropological explanation of paranormal ripped straight from the first half of the "Exorcist" novel.

The film largely relies on the credulity sown by internet whisperings of its factual basis in the real life tragic death of a German college student Anneliese Michel, who died at the hands of a priest during her own exorcism in the seventies. This story is elicited in flashbacks which are then disputed in court. Ethan Thomas (Cambell Scott) is the prosecutor, a protestant who looks as if the very mention of transubstantiation is enough to raise his ire never mind fucking exorcism, called to put away Fr. Moore, a parish priest who has been charged with the negligent murder of Emily Rose. Played by Jennifer Carpenter, she's a rural bumbkin who leaves a house that looks like it was left over from the Walton's to go to university before becoming plagued with hallucinations. While Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is the agnostic lawyer forced to re-engage with her faith as she stumbles into a court room battle of wits between good and evil. She is the disbeliever who's faith gets recalled in the face of regular 3 am attacks from demonic forces.

The beautifully presented promotional material for the film suggested a more subtle psychological take on the Exorcist, but you really get served a turkey in a script that only slightly keeps pace as a slightly array episode of Profiler. The court-room scenes seek to popularise the debate over the existence of god using the sort of arguments ALIVE! has used for years: "ha...if there's so much evil, then there must be a god!" The overall project is the creation of a fictional saint in the form of Emily Rose, a young girl who at the hands of her priest accepted her battle with Satan “so many will come to see that the realm of the spirit is real." A series of archetypes are constructed to represent various sides in a debate over the existence of God. The representatives of medical science testifying for the prosecution are presented as vain, clinical disbelievers, the sort of blokes that would testify to the insanity of Chris Krinkle in "A Miracle on 34th Street" and ruin an 8 year old's Christmas along the way. On the side of the defence is a a new age academic quoting Carlos Castanaeda, and of course the possibility of God.

Christians have generally railed against horror as a genre for its hysterical invesion of religious imagery and satanic themes to induce scares, but here Derrickson shows an acute awareness that with enough allusion to the cathecism and obscure jibberings in Latin, even the most lapsed Christian's can be scared back into the fold. This is not one to watch alone, watch it with friends because by the time the blessed holy mother of god herself makes an appearance, Jaysus, Mary and Joesph you'll be glad to have your cynicism backed up.


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