A human head rotating around like an owl. Spewing vomit. A young Linda Blair shouting curse words in foreign tongues. You’ll get none of that in this exorcism film, which seems to catch some audiences off guard. This film only contains slight similarities to those (how many sequels and prequels did they stop with?) Exorcist films. Here the story sticks mostly in the courtroom so be prepared for “Yes, Your Honor” in addition to “Yes, Father.”
Based on the true story of the possible demonic possession of a 19 year old college freshman (Jennifer Carpenter, who can scream with the best of them), the film weaves it’s way through the trial of the priest who’s accused of negligence that results in the death of young Emily Rose. Much of the horror aspect unfolds in often harrowing flashbacks.
Unlike the other Exorcism films where special effects and horror elements created the base this one owes much its success to the acting. True to form, Laura Linney makes a mark in most of her roles, and here too she turns in a fine performance as attorney Erin Bruner who takes on the task of defending priest and the Catholic Church, that in a rare circumstance officially sanctioned the exorcism. Tom Wilkinson too gets high marks as Father Moore as he brings subtle touches of believability while balancing that with some intense exorcism scenes.
The posters and ad campaign will definitely throw audiences for a loop. Seeing images of young Emily offering up a tortured scream or another promo shot of the young girl wandering through a bleak snow filled field may give the wrong impression. True the film does offer these elements and some downright scary moments but it’s not a continual horror ride. Some people may complain that the structure and style slow the film’s tension. The film moves back and forth from courtroom to flashbacks of Emily at college then at home with the possession becoming increasingly intense. But director Scott Derrickson, who’s had experience with other demon films such as Hellraiser: Inferno, creates a nifty balance between courtroom drama and the increasing torture that Emily goes through.
The film rates far from heavenly as it tosses in random biblical references and other ideas, which either don’t pay off or doesn’t expand on. How many 3 a.m. (that equals the demons’ playtime) sequences have to occur before something actually occurs? There’s also a death that can be guessed about 20 minutes before it occurs yet when it happens still leaves a curious question of why it happened.
Those looking for a Grisham-ized version of an exorcism movie will find satisfaction with the first rate acting but those in need of a full-fledged scare should crank up the Linda Blair section of the video collection.