Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Written by:Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Starring: Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Jennifer Carpenter, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Released: October 27, 2005
Grade: B

Be careful because the title can be misleading.  Released just a few days before Halloween, I was expecting some “scare the pants off you” horror flick in a similar vein to The Exorcist.  Instead, I got a legal drama and seeing Laura Linney again as a lawyer had me thinking back to the excellent Primal Fear.

Based on a true story, Father Moore (Wilkinson) finds himself being charged with negligent homicide.  Told by way of flashbacks, we learn how Father Moore came to be in this position.  The family of young college student named Emily Rose had come to him as a last resort.  Once a vibrant, happy girl, Emily now experiences continual hallucinations and epileptic-like seizures.  Doctors have been unable to help her and so the Rose family have gone in search of a “spiritual” answer.

Father Moore didn’t believe in the supernatural but that quickly changed on meeting Emily Rose.  After seeing her condition and the way she spoke, he believed she had been possessed by a satanic demon.  An exorcism was attempted without success and not long after, Emily died of self-inflicted injuries and malnutrition.  Non-believers see her death as a direct result of Father Moore’s “treatment” and hence he finds himself before a judge and jury.

I’m not sure how I stand on the subject matter but I like courtroom setting and I enjoyed seeing this story unfold.  Emily’s story is compelling and I’m sure many people who see it, will ask themselves the question as to whether they believe in ghosts, demons and other supernatural phenomena.  What also keeps the film interesting are the lingering questions about Father Moore – is he telling the full story and will he be found guilty?

Laura Linney plays Erin Bruner, a gun defence attorney who initially took on the case to improve her public image.  As the trial progresses though, she finds herself increasingly caught up with the emotion of the case and it becomes her own personal battle to find the truth and seek justice.  Linney is my favourite actress of the moment and she rarely turns in a bad performance.  If I’m ever on trial for murder, I’d be extremely tempted to hire her – she’s a very convincing lawyer!

The film has its weaknesses however and I do question the obvious one-sidedness to the story.  There’s an obvious message here at that is that we need to believe what happened to Emily is true.  You get the feeling the screenwriters have overused their cosmetic brush and that the real story wasn’t as straight forward.  The prosecuting lawyer, played by Campbell Scott, is an unlikeable character and is always making stupid remarks.  When you put him alongside Laura Linney, you know who people will be cheering for.

Another query I had was how this case came to be in the first place?  Emily’s family, who for some strange reason we don’t hear much from, appear to support Father Moore.  Who had the unequivocal evidence in the first place that Moore was guilty?  The mystery of Emily Rose continues…