A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the movie, despite its PG-13 rating, includes gruesome imagery, sound effects, and especially explicit references to demonic possession, animalistic behavior, self-inflicted violence, and of course, questions concerning religious faith and skepticism. The material is somewhat complex, in other words, and may be troubling and even harrowing for younger viewers. The film opens with screams on a black screen, indicating her death, then cuts to her family's reactions, inside their farmhouse; it goes on to show still shots of the dead girl (emaciated, bruised, and wounded), scary scenes of her possession (body contorted, guttural sounds and screaming, fast cuts and dark rain/shadows), and standard horror movie scenes of characters walking down dark hallways, running in the rain, hearing sounds and seeing shadows, and seeing their clocks all show 3am (a witching hour explained in the film). A character is violently struck and killed by a car, characters drink, smoke, and use occasional, mild, harsh language.
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What's the story?
Reportedly based on the actual case that inspired The Exorcist, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE begins with the death of a possessed college student, Emily (a very convincing Jennifer Carpenter) and the trial of the priest who attempted an exorcism, Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson). Charged with negligent homicide, he's defended by non-believer lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) and prosecuted by devout Christian (though not Catholic) Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott in a stuffy-looking mustache). The film proceeds by flashbacks to show Emily's idyllic rural home life, her move to a college campus that always looks dark and rainy, and her sudden first encounter with the devil one night.
Is it any good?
Despite its title and pile-up of such spectacular images, Exorcism is actually less about the exorcism than about how to interpret what happens to Emily. While the movie plainly shows her possessed, doubts arise in legal, social, and "scientific" explanations (is she anorexic, psychotic, in need of medication?). Cutting among the courtroom scenes (the wondrous Shohreh Aghdashloo makes a brief appearance as a scientist who defends the exorcism), Erin's own lonely encounters with demons (or sinister shadows and noises at her home, at least), and Emily's rapidly escalating symptoms (including speaking in multiple voices, eating bugs, starving, and abusing herself and others physically), the film makes Father Moore's case, that even if you don't believe (like Erin), demons exist. And they'll plague you just to make that point.
Demonstrating their existence appears to be Father Moore's focus as well. He insists, against Erin's advice, that he testify. "What matters most is that I tell Emily's story," he says, having heard her version of a vision whereby she learns her suffering and example are God's will. While the Archdiocese and scientific and legal communities are trying to explain the event, Emily's "story" is that the explanation is a function of faith. She's chosen. The most compelling question arising from Scott (Hellraiser: Inferno) Derrickson's revisitation of the story has to do with audience and timing. Why now? What's at stake for current audiences, not only in Emily's ordeal, but in the arguments around it? And what sort of refitting makes it suitable for a PG-13 rating, aside from the omission of Linda Blair's green-pea soup vomit and Mercedes McCambridge's obscenities in the William Friedkin version?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's opposition of faith and science in the question of Emily's death. How does each approach fall short of explaining what has happened to her while also providing reassuring structure/resolution for those espousing these views? What is the effect of representing the case as a courtroom drama? How do Emily's visions or dreams become code for what's "real" and also for possible hallucination? How does the film combine subjective and so-called objective accounts of the events? How is Emily's family portrayed, as subordinate characters to the lawyers?
- In theaters: September 9, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: December 20, 2005
- Cast: Campbell Scott, Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson
- Director: Scott Derrickson
- Studio: Sony Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material, including intense/frightening sequences and disturbing images
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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