The Exorcism of Emily Rose Asks Questions You Don’t Want to Answer

Dept. of Faith-ish Facts


October is here, and with Halloween just around the corner, comes the prerequisite attention given to the horror genre. The long standing joke at Goggler HQ is that I do not like horror movies. But it is important to note, that I actually do like horror. It’s just that I have a very tight definition of what horror is. This year, I have taken it upon myself to expand my horror repertoire, and this is the first in a series of reviews that I am writing of scary movies that come highly recommended. This is Bahir’s Four Weeks of Horror.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is always the movie I reach for when asked about my favourite horror film. It’s the one movie that I enjoyed that real horror movie fans approve of. Rewatching it, I realised that there was so much about the movie I had forgotten. The biggest thing being that The Exorcism of Emily Rose is actually a courtroom drama.

The main story centers around a case that’s brought against Father Moore, a priest being accused of the negligent homicide of one Emily Rose, a young woman who dies after being supposedly possessed by Lucifer himself. Laura Linney is then tasked with defending Father Moore and, over the course of the film and the court case, we are taken back to the days leading up to Emily’s death.

The Exorcism

Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson in The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a story told in flashback. Despite being the titular character, Emily Rose is never truly heard from. We hear from eyewitnesses, and investigators, and doctors, after the fact. The detachment from the events ends up giving us real pause for thought. Is all that we’re seeing real? Is it the truth? Or is it just a retelling to better push an agenda?

Jennifer Carpenter’s Emily Rose is a masterclass of a horror performance. Carpenter spends the bulk of the movie screaming in anguish, or fear, or pain. Physically contorting her body while being possessed. And yet, she never trips into the dramatic. Her fear and anguish is constantly bordering on the manic, but it is always tinged with sadness and tiredness. Tired of the fear, the pain, and the horror. So much so that when the pivotal “Virgin Mary” scene happens, you wonder why Emily Rose doesn’t just choose the easy way out.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose feels like the perfect treatment of a ghost story for the modern age. It asks the question of where the supernatural, the mystical, and the religious fit in a world that also has science and medicine. Was Emily Rose possessed? Or was it neurological? Was she speaking in tongues? Or was the fact that she could speak Aramaic and German something to be considered? As a story, this movie asked questions and proposed answers that seemed bigger than just the idea of a possession. It asks what is true, and how belief plays a part in that answer.

The Exorcist

Jennifer Carpenter is Emily Rose in The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose isn’t particularly scary or gore-filled. The religious farm girl who moves to the big city college only to be possessed seems like a simple story, but the way writers Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman tell it is what makes this movie stand out. There is an intelligence in the writing. In the arguing of the case in the courtroom. In the way it makes audiences come to the table with their own preconceived notions about the religious and the supernatural, or the scientific and the medical.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose isn’t a “watch through your fingers” kind of horror story. But if you are a person of faith, I think it’ll have you asking questions about religion and science that may be uncomfortable. And that to me is the best kind of horror movie.

As part of his horror re-education, Bahir also reviewed It Follows and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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