Law & Order: Special Exorcism Unit

Columbus Alive | September 8, 2005
The danger of making any film in the exorcismsploitation horror sub-genre is that it’s doomed to come up short in comparisons to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (as did that franchise’s own spin-offs).

And taken as a whole, the based-on-a-true-story The Exorcism of Emily Rose is certainly no Exorcist, but some of it’s individual scenes are every bit as scary, if not way scarier, than anything that Linda Blair experienced. (I realize it may be film critic blasphemy to say anything’s scarier than The Exorcist, but with all due respect to anyone who couldn’t sleep for a week after seeing it, pea soup and spinning heads just haven’t aged all that well).

Of course, these individual scary scenes only occur as flashbacks in the larger, lamer scheme of Emily Rose, and for every scary scene of, say, a possessed Jennifer Carpenter upside down, horribly contorted and with her pupils dilated to the point they fill her whole eye sockets, there are two scenes of cheesy Satans culled from the pages of The Weekly World News, and three scenes of what looks like the Ghost of Christmas Future lurking in a dark hallway.

Director Scott Derrickson does deserve props for trailblazing a new genre here, however; part courtroom drama and part horror movie, his Emily Rose is courtroom horror.

After college girl Emily Rose is found dead in her bedroom following a failed exorcism attempt, her family priest Tom Wilkinson finds himself being prosecuted for negligent homicide. Laura Linney is his attorney, and the court has to decide whether she was actually possessed by the devil or simply a psychotic epileptic whose religious upbringing triggered a spiritual theme to her attacks.

Derrickson seesaws between the dry courtroom theatrics of the present and dramatizations of Rose’s past experiences. It’s a strange half and half approach, one that ultimately seems less effective than picking either and sticking with it would have been. That it still manages to be occasionally scary is due to the fact that the film’s “This could happen to you” vibe, makes it seem so much less safe than any horror film that the audience goes into already knowing the premise was simply pulled out of the ass of some hack screenwriter.

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