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The Exorcism of Emily Rose

[M (15+)-rated]

I don’t find horror films easy to watch, even ‘art-house’ ones like "The Exorcism of Emily Rose".  But this film did find its way under my skin; which, I gather, was one of the aims of the Christian director, Scott Derrickson.  "Emily Rose" is based on the story of Anneliese Michel, a German woman who submitted to her church’s rite of exorcism in 1976, at the age of 24, after years of seizures, demonic visions, and speaking in different voices and personalities.  She died, it is believed, of starvation.  The ensuing court case questioned whether the cause of her disease was psychosis or possession.

Derrickson has transplanted this tragic and controversial story to North America, and uses the trial of the priest (played by Tom Wilkinson), charged with ‘negligent homicide’, as the basis for his presentation.  The legal protagonists (played by Laura Linney, as the ambitious and doubting defence lawyer, and by Campbell Scott, as the conventional Protestant prosecutor) tease out the underlying accusation: was medication, or the lack of it, a factor in the tortured young woman’s suffering and death?

The portrayal of Emily Rose (played athletically by Jennifer Carpenter) as being possessed by six demons, who fill her body with deathly visions and animalistic contortions, is disturbing and physically draining.  (Remember, you don’t have to see this film.)  I tried to draw feeble, comically reassuring comparisons with ‘similar’ conflicts between Harry Potter and Voldemort: but this was pure ‘whistling in the dark’ on my part.  This is quite a scary film; but it does leave an intellectual impression beyond the horror.  The film’s ending is reasonable as a climax to a solid courtroom thriller, although its particular spiritual conclusions may not fit every viewer’s theological taste.

Derrickson told the Methodist-based Seattle Pacific University magazine, "Response": "To dissect evil is ultimately to define good…I don’t think you can watch this film and not ask yourself very deeply what you believe about the existence of the spiritual realm.  And I think that for popular culture to be provoked to ask those questions — “What do I believe about the existence of the spiritual realm?”  “What, if anything, do I believe inhabits that realm?” — that can only result in progress, in spiritual progress, for those who see the film."  (Quoted at http://www.spu.edu/depts/uc/response/summer2k5/bookfilm/EmilyRose.asp)

"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is worth seeing (though possibly not alone): but I certainly hope the film doesn’t inadvertently add to the burdened imagination of those suffering with a mental illness.  Point for discussion: why was the Sunday night screening for this film packed with young people?  Over to you.  Oh, and by the way, if you just want a good night out: go and see "Wallace and Grommit" for a horror story you’ll want to buy on DVD.