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Sony Picture Classics presents
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Unrated Special Edition) (2005)

"There are forces surrounding this trial. Dark, powerful forces."
- Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: December 19, 2005

Stars: Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Jennifer Carpenter
Other Stars: Campbell Scott, Colm Feore, Kenneth Welsh, Mary Beth Hurt, Henry Czerny, Duncan Fraser, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Joshua Close, Marilyn Norry, Andrew Wheeler, Katie Keating, JR Bourne
Director: Scott Derrickson

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some disturbing images)
Run Time: 02h:01m:38s
Release Date: December 20, 2005
UPC: 043396136779
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+BB+ B

DVD Review

For me, seeing the "true story" disclaimer slapped onto a horror film usually causes me to arch a suspect eyebrow at the whole thing. The rare exceptions, such as Tobe Hooper's original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, are few and far between, and in general it seems like adding those two words is just a desperate move to make a subpar film have more legitimacy. With the possession-themed The Exorcism of Emily Rose from director Scott Derrickson (Hellraiser: Inferno) the "true story" label is actually well deserved, as it is based on the real-life case of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman who underwent a controversial and ultimately fatal Church-endorsed exorcism in 1975.

Anneliese Michel was supposedly possessed by six different demons, including the likes of Satan, Judas Iscariot, and Adolf Hitler, and the screenplay from Derrickson and creative partner Paul Harris Boardman keeps much of that intact, but relocates the story to the United States. The specific timeframe is left intentionally vague in a story that centers on the big city courtroom battle of the negligent homicide charges brought against the Catholic priest who oversaw the titular rite of alleged infestatio. Questions are raised about the relevancy of possession, with flashbacks offering the requisite scary scenes, but this is essentially a thinking person's demonic possession film. And that's one of the things that makes this one so unusual, in that it spends more time with courtroom scenes rather than outright scares, but the issues brought forward about faith versus science are presented with even-handed intelligence.

It's really the underlying story of the Church on trial, with Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) facing hard prison time for his perceived lethal mishandling of what was believed by some to have been the demonic possession of devoutly religious Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). The prosecution—led by oddly mustachioed and faithful Catholic Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott)—claims the girl suffered from epilepsy and could have benefited from continued medical treatment, while the defense attorney, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), a martini-swilling agnostic, is forced eventually to try and accept beliefs that go against the grain of logical science and the nature of her perception of reality.

All we learn about Emily Rose, who dies before the film opens, occurs during flashbacks told largely in court, and that is where the story has the luxury of being more open to individual interpretation. In between some of the predictable and occasionally tired objection/sustained arguments between Linney and Scott, the possession evidence of what supposedly occurred is presented, but the realities can either way, depending on what you want to believe. Were her bleeding hands caused by stigmata or a barb-wire fence? Who can say?

The performances by Linney and Wilkinson, as expected from a pair of Oscar nominees, are immensely watchable throughout, but Jennifer Carpenter as Emily Rose—who gets very little formal dialogue—makes the most of her troubling flashback scenes, turning her character into an understandably frightened and confused woman who may or may not be in the throes of multiple demonic possessions.

Director Scott Derrickson has sort of bucked horror tradition with the way he tells his story, and the courtroom angle may seem unrepentantly dull to those short-attention genre fans expecting more of a gory ride. There are some eerie possession sequences, but this is a smart film that makes its audience think.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Sony has issued this unrated version in a solid looking 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There's a lot of discussion in director Scott Derrickson's commentary track about his specific control of the color palette, and the transfer keeps things properly muted, with the few bursts of color appearing with no smearing or bloom. Fleshtones look natural throughout, and deep black levels (for the most part) make nearly all of the shadowy bits look detailed and dramatically effective.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Only one audio option, and it's an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. A very prominent LFE channel enhances some of creepier moments with deep rumbles, and the neatly aggressive sound presentation uses the rear channels to great effect during the possession flashback scenes. The courtroom sequences follows a more traditional frontcentric approach, but dialogue is always crisp and easy to understand.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
13 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sueno, The Gospel, Boogeyman, Into The Blue, Mirrormask, Open Season, The Cave, The Da Vinci Code, The Fog, The Grudge, The Pink Panther (2005), The Amityville Horror, The Amityville Horror (2005)
1 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Scott Derrickson
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: If you're a slipcase fan, this release should make you happy because there is a basically unnecessary slip-on cardboard sleeve included as part of the packaging.

Well worth a listen is the commentary track from soft-spoken director Scott Derrickson. There's much talk about the careful and deliberate color palette used in the film, as well as the influence of Francis Bacon and Dario Argento. Derrickson keeps the narrative flow moving at a nice clip, lobbing in tidbits about what the colors represent ("green is captivity"), pointing out what is surprisingly the film's most complex CG shot and even what scene he imagines could be parodied on The Simpsons.

A short deleted scene (02m:41s), with optional Derrickson commentary, features Linney's character picking up a man in a bar and taking him back to her place, where things don't necessarily go so well. A trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes are viewable individually or as one collective piece. Genesis of the Story (19m:47s) spends just a little time discussing the Anneliese Michel case, and offers input from Derrickson and writer Paul Harris Boardman, along with Linney, Wilkinson, and Carpenter. Casting the Movie (12m:23s) describes just that, with Derrickson praising his leads appropriately. The best of the set is Visual Design (18m:57s), which describes how the film tries to "marry beauty and terror." Here there are examples of the tightly controlled color palette and the use of color intensity to sell a specific emotion, as well as the use of shadows and shapes to give the film's timeframe an unspecific feel.

A big set of assorted trailers (though none for the feature) are also included. The disc is cut into 28 chapters, and features optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Despite how it has been marketed, this is a rather unconventional horror film, one that relies more on courtroom battles than it necessarily does on demonic ones. It's an interesting and perhaps daring cross-section that ends up working out quite well, offering different perspectives on the subject of possession while still delivering some obligatory creepy sequences.

This unrated cut adds some additional courtroom scenes.

Recommended.

 


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