First of all "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is not a well crafted film. The hollow plot devices and dialogues are laughably stale, cinematography and editing are lacking any style and the scares simply fall flat. A cast of usually brilliant performers delivers uninspired, phone-in performances. Of course, I could dismiss this flick as a dumb, misguided, scare-free piece of drivel. Unfortunately, it's much worse than that.
Like most pictures dealing with the subject, this film actually treats demonic possession as real and thus depicts the practice of exorcism not only as viable but as a necessary tool against the forces of evil. This generally makes exorcism pictures propaganda material for a rather medieval method still covered by today's catholic doctrine. Now, it's not that I generally oppose the catholic faith, but this particular practice is despicable. While most pictures of this horror sub-genre go more for simple scares than philosophical discussion, this film takes a stance for exorcism by putting the conflict in a court room.
The filmmakers make a big deal out of the fact that the film is based on a true story, suggesting that the case of "Emily Rose" substantiates the existence of demonic possession and that all the people involved were in fact not unscrupulous religious fanatics, but upright men of faith. If you are familiar with the true case, which took place in Germany in the late 1970s, this depiction will strike you as disgusting and cynical spin doctoring. An obscene, exploitative propaganda piece void of any integrity or empathy for authentic human suffering. Anneliese Michel (the "real" Emily) and her grueling fate are not treated with the proper respect.
In short, Michel was a deeply religious, though psychologically disturbed young woman, who was basically tortured to death by a her parents and some priest, because everyone involved agreed that her epileptic convulsions and tourette-like rantings were clear signs of demonic possessions. Severely beaten up, with her front teeth knocked out(all supposedly by the demon inside her) she died of starvation after days of exorcism. The practice of exorcism had been made fairly popular in catholic circles through the smash hit success of Willam Friedkin's The Exorcist a few years earlier, so it was a small leap of faith for Michel, her family and that priest to believe exorcism was a viable option. After Michel's death copies of an audio taping of her exorcism became a very popular device to promote the catholic cause in church groups - basically making Michel a poster child for exorcism. Two years after Michel's death, her parents and her exorcist were convicted, but came off with ridiculously short jail sentences.
Treated with the proper respect and integrity and with some actual brains behind the project this film could have made some powerful statements about fanaticism and homicidal tendencies, if it only had stayed true to it's source material. The true story of Anneliese Michel is a haunting testament to the cruelty of men. It could make for a very intense, grueling drama. "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is quite the opposite. It's an unwilling farce, exploiting the sad, cruel fate of Michel, using cheap shock effects and cheesy story-lining.
It is beyond me why such brilliant actors as Laura Linney, Campbell Scott (two of my absolute favorite actors) and Tom Wilkinson would have participated in this horribly, ill-conceived borefest. After all, they have been known to usually star in intelligent, independent-minded films. This is just a clumsy exploitation flick pandering to the religious right (who made this cheap movie a box office-success). It saddens me to think they did it for the money, but it saddens me even more to think that they actually believed this film to be a project of integrity.
The torture of psychologically disturbed Anneliese is turned into the saintly martyrdom of Emily, who decides upon meeting Mother Mary halfway into the exorcism, that she would rather have some more fatal demonic torture than being let into heaven right away - because that is the true way of showing Satan and his pals who's boss (beats me how that works). All of this is being told through some corny letter from Emily that the exorcist reads out aloud while in the witness stand. The jury then decides, that even though he is clearly guilty, he should not be put in prison, because he's not a homicidal fanatic, but rather a nice old man who stands by his faith. The judge agrees and let's good old Tom Wilkinson go. Of course, by this time (close to the end credits) the film has already established that the priest actually is right - since we can see the demon doing all sorts of shenanigans: harassing Laura Linney's lawyer lady and stopping her watch at 3am (the demonic witching hour, we learn - by the way, the only demonic thing going on at that time around where I live is Larry King interviewing Dr.Phil and other phonies), yanking poor Emily around, widening her pupils to give her what can only be described as Demonovision, making her play piano and letting her speak Aramaic, Latin and of course, the ever evil German (so the demon is musical and multilingual - neat, eh?). To make the whole thing a fair and balanced experience for the audience, Campbell Scott's disgruntled prosecutor gets to show his cynical debunked view of events, but it's clearly established through light switches moving by themselves, some kooky doctor witness mysteriously getting run over by a car, a lame version of aforementioned audio tape (the true recording is terrifying, by the way) and some silly locket with the defender's initials, that there are definitely divine and hellish forces battling it out here.
So in the end this film cheesily gives a thumbs up to exorcism, while using the horrific true story of a victim of that very practice as a basis. It's sickening.
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