Frightening horror imagery alongside gripping courtroom drama!
Director Scott Derrickson’s supernatural horror legal drama The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) is a magnificent film. Derrickson’s haunting direction is truly impressive as he creates a sense of impending dread for the chilling exorcism as well as a profound sympathy for those involved in the real resulting trial. The Exorcism of Emily Rose beautifully balances creepy horror imagery until the fearsome exorcism itself that I found chilling. The entire courtroom drama is fascinating and detailed with an enthralling sense for the dramatic that’s gripping. I cannot believe that The Exorcism of Emily Rose is technically Scott Derrickson’s feature film directorial debut. It’s polished, reflective, and unholy in the most entertaining way, whether you’re religious or not. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is genuinely one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.
Writers Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman really do justice to the tragic real life story of Anneliese Michel, here renamed as Emily Rose. Whether you believe in demonic possession or her epileptic seizures as explanation for her death, The Exorcism of Emily Rose shows deep empathy for her clear suffering and ghastly injuries before her horrifying death. Derrickson and Boardman find a nice balance of science versus religion in their reasoning in the trial so that you can decide for yourself what really occurred with logical or faith based perspectives in sight. I found the character drama fascinating and moving within Derrickson and Boardman’s writing and spiritual horror. The unholy findings of the priest are shocking between his account or the audio tape and seeing Derrickson bring it all to life is genuinely disturbing.
Laura Linney is fantastic as self-serving lawyer Erin Bruner defending a priest during a wrongful death due to an exorcism and ended medical treatments. Linney finds a respectful middle ground between skeptical agnosticism for her shrewd defense lawyer as well as a profoundly sympathetic ear to Father Moore’s story of demonic possession. Linney finds faith and fear in an effervescent performance. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is one of Linney’s finest roles as an actress. Tom Wilkinson is captivating and touching as the faithful priest Father Moore. His portrayal of a priest performing a chaotic exorcism is shocking, but also moving when he’s testifying on the stand at trial. Wilkinson brings a serious gravitas to Father Moore I found compelling.
Campbell Scott’s cruel and manipulative prosecuting lawyer Ethan Thomas is infuriating with his outrageous objections and hypocritical attacks on Father Moore’s faith and conduct in attempting to save the life of a young girl. Jennifer Carpenter is outstanding contorting, writhing, and screaming in agony as the possessed Emily Rose. I found Carpenter a serious heroine who is sympathetic and far beyond mortal help. Kenneth Welsh is excellent as the overly confident Dr. Mueller. Mary Beth Hurt is rightfully indignant as Judge Brewster in disbelief at these outrageous legal arguments. Colm Feore is great as the scumbag law firm head pressuring Laura Linney towards a flawed argument. Henry Czerny’s testimony is fascinating when he takes the stand as a psychologist doctor specializing in epilepsy and psychological medicine. Shohreh Aghdashloo has a fun testifying scene talking about exorcisms within various cultures. Duncan Fraser is thoroughly frightened for his life as he witnessed the exorcism in question. He portrays his shrink as visibly shaken by his experience.
Editor Jeff Betancourt slickly transitions between flashbacks, hauntings, court dates, and memories with ease. I like the slow burn pace that keeps The Exorcism of Emily Rose moving along steadily for 122 minutes. The steady and creative cuts show off evidence and paranormal happenings with an eerie realism. The conversations can breathe and there’s not incessant cuts during the scares.
Cinematographer Tom Stern’s gripping wide shots are all stunning. The slow panning shots to the fast chaotic whipping shots during the barn sequence of the exorcism are frightening. I love the slow pans around Laura Linney’s apartment when she’s haunted. The Exorcism of Emily Rose looks creepy with dark shadows cascading all over and visually imaginative shots. I’m very impressed with how fearsome or atmospheric every shot still looks. The close-ups and medium shots are breathtaking and look refined and elegant to me to allow for engaging raw emotional performances.
Production designer David Brisbin recreates Emily Rose’s impoverished family home and barn to a spacious courtroom or college campus. I love the shadowy art direction from Sandi Tanaka and Kendelle Elliott. Every shot is covered in darkness or shadows with a grim mood at all times. Set decorators Lesley Beale, Chris Beach, Jay Mitchell, Audra Neil, Cynthia Burtinshaw, and Michelle Hunter provide dismal furnishings for a realistic poor household’s possessions.
Visual effects artists Keith VanderLaan, Michael Shelton, J.M. Logan, and Diana Tauder create bloody faces or piercing demonic eyes on characters to pupils dilating to really freak you out. I love all the strange demonic appearances.
Composer Christopher Young’s symphonic score is gigantic and haunting. His dark and serious music adds intensity to the exorcism and demonic possession sequences. He creates a mournful atmosphere to all the paranormal scenes haunting the characters throughout The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Christopher Young’s creative score contributes a scary vibe that lingers long after the film is over.
Sound designers Richard C. Franklin, Jussi Tegelman, Marti D. Humphrey, Paul N.J. Ottosson, and Todd Grace pull off a sort of magic trick by recreating Emily Rose speaking in tongues, ancient languages, and using split voices. The fading voices in and out for the demonic voices is eerie and unsettling to the core. Their overall sound design and mixing is very creative and effective for The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Costume designers Tish Monaghan and Lee Sollenberger recreate older era outfits with a neat dedication to fashionable suits and dresses. I love the priest robes on Father Moore and sundresses on Emily Rose. Make-up artists Gitte Axen, Victoria Down, and Mindy Hall show off Emily Rose’s bruises and injuries with stunning practical effects.
In all, The Exorcism of Emily Rose gave me chills with Derrickson’s haunting horror imagery, gripping courtroom drama, and the disturbing unholy presence. Few demonic possession or exorcism films compare to The Exorcism of Emily Rose.