Matthew Lickona 2:02 p.m., Sept. 23
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
- Rated PG-13
The courtroom drama wedded to the devil-possession horror show, two different worlds, as clearly evidenced when the D.A. jumps to his feet to object to a piece of defense testimony on the grounds of "silliness." The case — a Catholic priest accused of negligent homicide for removing a diagnosed "schizophrenic epileptic" from her meds and replacing them, fatally, with the rite of exorcism — is based on a true one, but the true one was situated in Germany in the Seventies, and the first leap of faith to be taken by the viewer is to believe that, given the facts of the case as presented, the charges would ever have been brought in the first place. Director Scott Derrickson, leaving no doubt as to which side of the argument he comes down on, will ask the viewer to leap a lot farther, giving him privileged access not just to flashbacks of the alleged possession (a standard program of writhing on the floor, clawing the walls, tearing hair out, eating spiders, and speaking in subtitled ancient tongues known only to Mel Gibson), but also to the present-tense manifestations of "dark forces," at the witching hour of 3:00 a.m., around the agnostic defense attorney. (The Devil, who presumably would be happier with a conviction, leaves the God-fearing prosecutor well alone.) Campbell Scott, no matter how far in the wrong, is nonetheless allowed to state a strong case for the prosecution; and Laura Linney, conversely, is allowed to show much weakness in defense, before she summons up a closing argument applicable, beyond the case of her client, to the fantasy genres in general, an argument for "possibilities" over "facts." (The churchified courtroom of red brick and stained glass throws in its own two cents.) If the horror element is inhibited a bit by the flashback structure, and if the courtroom element is lured a ways into hokum, the marriage of the two is still curious enough to hold interest, and the wholehearted commitment to that marriage is enough to tighten that hold. Tom Wilkinson, Jennifer Carpenter, Mary Beth Hurt. 2005.