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On Writing
by Stephen King

. "The Exorcism of Emily Rose"

Selling the possibility of demonic possession is never easy. Trying to do so in a court of law, a centerpiece of this story, doesn't help convince. About the best you can do is use the forces of cinematic power to create the illusion. Hopefully, there'll be some intelligence and taste to keep it within plausible limits. This is just that kind of scary flick.

Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is either a control freak who is so irresponsible to medical norms and dictates that he's guilty of negligent homicide in the eyes of the law, or he's as fastidious as a priestly father can be in his application of the archdiocese's assignment in exorcism.

Either way, something was seriously going on with Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), with her physical condition steadily deteriorating and growing wierder by the day. By the time Moore was called in, whatever it was gnawing at her was quite advanced. Her medicine, a psychotropic drug, was not only not helping, it appeared to have the effect of lessening her chances of fighting the problem. To Moore, the problem was an invasion of demons into the mind and body of a very receptive believer.

The precept is that an exorcist can't perform his task without the full approval and understanding of the victim. For this, Moore convinces Emily that the cause of the manifestation is spiritual evil, not a medically treatable disease.

All of which comes out in trial once the accused priest is jailed and prosecuted by the state, and once he accepts Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) as his counsel. For the prosecution, Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), a fiery secularist d.a. who claims to be a churchgoer, leaves no secular leaf unturned as he presents his case against the accused. As a bit of side intrigue, Bruner manages to negotiates a new office at her firm as junior partner with her iron headed boss Karl Gunderson (Colm Feore). But, that's a stake she's willing to forget about once the issues are out there.

All this preamble to the trial takes 15 minutes of screen time and the rest is testimony and flashback as we follow Emily's trail of woe with her demonic captors and all the processes of flushing 'em out.

Completely avoiding too much supernatural razzle-dazzle, like green liquid spewing from the victim's mouth, the film hews as closely to reality as it can. While not ever reaching one that anyone in their right mind would consider acceptable, the mark of intelligence at the helm is evident. Director Scott Derrickson and screenwriter Paul Harris Boardman can take their bows for a fleshy presentation of possession, the spooky, the macabre.

Linney is smart and intense, worth her client's trust and confidence as well as our own in a solid performance. Wilkinson's art is at a peak with this kind of pseudo realistic portrayal, as much with his feet on the ground as his mind in the heavens. Jennifer Carpenter as the fated one is a visually good choice for which she renders the bone-breaking nuances of a tortured soul.

The rest is not so demanding but adequate to the task. Campbell Scott is entirely lawyerly from a prosecutorial perspective and, as with the entire supporting cast, meets the well written demands of a script that, in the end, can be found guilty of all too little possession. It never possessed this juror.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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