(This was originally written by me in Fall of 2018 for free for another site. It was originally posted on that site last year but I’m slowly moving all my articles over to Horror Bound so they’re in one place)
A young woman named Anneliese Michel spent ten years battling awful health issues that kept her in and out of hospitals. The doctors diagnosed her with epilepsy and then depression. But they were unsure what was really wrong with Anneliese. They gave her anti-seizure medications and anti-psychotic drugs, but Anneliese still suffered. She was 20 years old and developed an intolerance to religious objects and began hearing voices.
In the mid 70’s, Anneliese and her family gave up on modern medicine and turned to the church.
The family were devout Catholics and so they believed that Anneliese’s ailments were caused by a demon. They found a priest to help them through the Catholic church. His name was Ernst Alt. He was helped by a Bishop named Josef Stangl.
For a full year, Anneliese went through a torturous exorcism. The priest spent days at a time going through the exorcism rites as Anneliese suffered and fought. She stopped eating food and drinking water. And on July 1st, 1976, Anneliese died.
Her death was determined to be malnourishment and dehydration. Her parents and the two religious men who were involved were charged and found guilty of negligent homicide. They were sentenced to six months in jail and fined. This is a true story.
Anneliese’s story has fascinated many folks throughout the years. Especially those who believe something more sinister really was at play. In 1980, Felicitas D. Goodman wrote a book all about this crazy case and titled it The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel. The book highlighted the exorcism itself, the events before and the trial.
In 2005, a film based on this book and subsequently the case, was made. It was titled The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Scott Derrickson co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Harris Boardman, and directed the flick. Derrickson and Boardman went on to work on another exorcism film, Deliver Us From Evil , in 2014.
What’s so incredibly unique and special about The Exorcism of Emily Rose is that this is not your typical run-of-the-mill exorcism flick. If you’re looking for long scenes of vomiting and swearing, bodies floating and bending out of shape, handsome young priests throwing holy water around – this is the wrong movie for you.
This flick combines the drama of a court room with the horror of a demonic possession. The protagonist is Erin Bruner, played by Laura Linney. She has taken on the case of Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), who has been charged with negligent homicide. Erin is a beautifully crafted character who is driven by her own ambitions and her questions about religion and her faith. Father Moore is also played incredibly well. He spends most of the film speaking quietly but powerfully. His goal is to let the world know the truth about Emily’s story, despite the repercussions that will damage his career and livelihood. Emily is a young woman who died during an exorcism. Moore and Erin going head to head is very powerful and incredibly fascinating to watch.
Politics come into play when the Archdiocese demands that Father Moore plead guilty so that the public will stop paying attention to this crime, and the church can sweep it under the rug. But Moore demands to be heard in court and tell Emily’s version of the story. This plotline feels incredibly relevant, especially this past year after the accusations against the Catholic Church filled our headlines with stories of alleged abuse.
The story of Erin and Father Moore is surrounded by flashbacks of Emily, played by Jennifer Carpenter, who is 18 years old and headed to college. Her story is told purely through the testimonies of witnesses in the current court case.
Emily is strongly devoted to her Catholic faith and has begun a relationship with Jason, played by Joshua Close. When Emily joins college she begins to experience a demonic presence in and around her. Jason and her family surround her with support as she fights against a terrifying demonic force supposedly controlling her.
While this story involves a lot of court room scenes and jail scenes, there are still horror elements that come into play. Emily’s character is very similar to most demonic movies, she is sweet and homely and easy to love. You feel for her as she is attacked from the inside and out. And even as the story twists and turns, causing you as a viewer to question Emily’s experiences, you still feel for her the whole way through. The prosecuting lawyer working against Erin is Ethan, played by Campbell Scott. He continuously provides convincing evidence that Emily is not possessed but in fact dealing with some severe mental disorders.
The movie shows Emily being plagued by six different demonic entities – Cain, Nero, Judas Iscariot, a member of Legion, Belial and Lucifer. Basically, all the major players in the demon world. As Erin begins defending Father Moore, she too starts experiencing strange behavior at home. This creates a sense of urgency in the viewer as your root for Erin to stay safe as she fights for Moore and ultimately Emily’s story.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a strong film that continues to encourage the conversation around the demon vs mental illness factor. As we see in the news, exorcisms and claims of demonic possession rise every year. There are those that stand on one side – steadfastly believing in mental illness being the cause, therapy and medicine being the treatment. And those that stand just as steadfastly on the other side believing demons to be the cause, and exorcisms and praying to be the treatment. This movie stands on the side of demons being the cause of Emily’s illness. But it does leave a little room for the viewer to form their own opinion.
While Erin and Father Moore truly believe Emily was possessed and then saved by death, those in the court room do not. When the jury hands down their final decision, it’s of guilt. They give Father Moore time served, but do not clear his name.
It’s a great statement on the current state of church worshiper’s vs non-believers. What is great about this flick is how they completely show both sides of the argument. They don’t make a villain out of either. The facts are laid down in front of you so that the viewer is the ultimate judge.
To this day, there has not been another film like The Exorcism of Emily Rose. There have been many demonic possession films. But none come close to the reality that is created with expertise in this movie.
It’s a truly unique flick that will cause you to question everything. It will force you to really pay attention to the movie. And it will leave you with an ultimate sense of dread. Beware of that tiny voice in the back of your head going, “what if?”
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