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The Exorcism of Emily Rose: Unrated Edition

The producers of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) are lying to you. First of all, you've been told that Emily Rose is "based on a true story." Well, that's sort of accurate. According to several Internet accounts, the picture's based on the 1976 case of Anneliese Michel, a twentysomething college student who died of starvation during a protracted exorcism in Wurzburg, Germany. Prosecutors frowned on the use of a 17th-century exorcism rite — specifically, they frowned on the weeks of fasting that killed her — and they tried two priests (and the woman's devout parents) for negligent manslaughter. Today, Ms. Michel's grave is a pilgrimage site. Emily Rose, on the other hand, is set in present-day America. The titular possessed woman (Jennifer Carpenter) is 19 and speaks English (well, English and Latin and Aramaic, but hey, she's possessed). There's only one priest (Tom Wilkinson) charged with a crime, and he's defended by the film's true lead — a booze-swilling, agnostic hotshot lawyer (Laura Linney) bucking for full partner. Also, any pesky questions about belief or the ethics of exorcism are quickly ejected in favor of "Perry Mason" histrionics, right down to a sneering prosecutor played by Campbell Scott, who even grew a mustache to twirl. Of course, there's nothing new about taffy-stretching the "truth" in a horror flick. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre pulled the same stunt with panache three decades earlier. But reducing this tragic, multifaceted case to blatant good-and-evil horror grammar feels a little insulting. And the filmmakers offer a more profound untruth with their advertising, right down to the film's title: This isn't The Exorcism of Emily Rose — this is The Incredibly Dull Court Trial that Comes After the Exorcism that Killed Emily Rose Before the Movie Even Began. Emily is wonderfully played by Carpenter, who has a weird, pliable face for possession. But we never get to see her behave normally — which would almost certainly have allowed us to care about her. Instead, we're treated to nothing but her overwrought, sporadically chilling antics — and those only appear in maybe 20 minutes of the film. The rest of the time, Linney and Wilkinson talk about stuff that happened — stuff we really should have seen — as they glumly shuffle around on sets that are never any other color than green, gray, brown, or orange, calmly trying to make the David E. Kelley-on-'ludes dialogue seem nuanced and profound. Which, unfortunately, it isn't. Despite some token nods to evidence that Emily Rose might have suffered from a combination of epilepsy-induced psychosis, anorexia, and misguided faith, co-writer/director Scott Derrickson stacks his deck with enough eerie witching-hour coincidences to make it clear that we're on God's side from the get-go. "There are… forces surrounding this trial," says Wilkinson, who also assures us that "demons exist." Unfortunately, in Emily Rose demons only exist to turn off your lights, open your blinds, shut doors behind you, and disrupt your sleep. Sony presents The Exorcism of Emily Rose in an unrated cut (that runs about three minutes longer than the theatrical version) in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a commentary by director Scott Derrickson, the featurettes "Genesis of the Story" (20 min.) "Casting the Movie" (12 min.), and "Visual Design" (19 min.), a deleted scene with optional director's commentary (3 min.), and bonus trailers. Keep-case with paperboard slipcase.
Mike Russell

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