If The Exorcist and John Grisham mated, The Exorcism of Emily Rose would be their unholy spawn.
Scott Derrickson’s film recalls the trial of Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), the local parish priest accused of directly causing the death of 19-year-old college student Emily Rose. Was Emily possessed? Were her seizures and episodes caused by some supernatural “invasion”? Or were they merely symptoms indicative of some severe form of epilepsy gone unchecked? Hotshot lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) defends Moore in an unusual case, one that revisits the roots of ancient Catholicism and shakes the very foundation of Erin Bruner’s own beliefs.
It’s an ideal set-up for your popcorn flick: a freaky death, an engrossing trial (with engrossing opening/closing statements) and a gratifying resolution. While some of the material seems admittedly dated and retread by this point — The Exorcist films have covered this material extensively — it’s the performances that buoy Derrickson’s project to a typically overly melodramatic, if satisfying, verdict. As Father Moore, Wilkinson is appropriately tortured and melancholic; the always underappreciated, yet perpetually solid Campbell Scott plays a mean prosecutor.
It stands to reason why Laura Linney has made it this far in her career. Regardless of her choices — be they successful, like Kinsey or Love Actually, or critically-maligned fare like The Life of David Gale — Linney escapes the critical microscope unscathed. Chalk it up to a combination of onscreen likeability, unfailing performances, and a willingness to fade into the background as a supporting actor if needed. Not since P.S. has Linney found herself front-and-center again, but in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Linney brings an unfailing dedication to character and professionalism, a facet she’s brought to every film. You may roll your eyes occasionally at a tender moment, such as when Bruner stumbles across a locket with her initials buried beneath the snow, but you’ll buy the gross sentimentality of it all because Linney, as her spiritually-confused character, buys it. You’ll buy it because she’ll convince you to buy it.
There’s a good chance The Exorcism of Emily Rose may drown in that bottomless sea of ho-hum, me-too horror vehicles, but if you’re a fan of exorcism flicks, it’s worth a look or even a frightened twitter.
Just be sure to bring a date.