Cinema Spotlight on Scott Derrickson Part I: The Exorcism of Emily Rose


Throughout the month of October the Cinema Spotlight will shine on Horror filmmaker Scott Derrickson; every week I’ll be looking at all five of his movies and conclude with his recent work, Doctor Strange, in theaters Nov. 4.

Having worked on a couple of horror-related and direct-to-video projects (Urban Legends: Final Cut and Hellraiser: Inferno), Derrickson made his directorial debut with The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Released on September 23, 2005, the film is based on true events that center around a court case involving Father Richard Moore (Snowden’s Tom Wilkinson), a Catholic priest who is put on trial for the death of a 19-year-old girl named Emily Rose (Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter).

The charges consist of having him neglect Emily’s medical treatment for her psychosis and elliptic spasms, while other evidence suggests the she was possessed and that the exorcism he performed failed, resulting in her death; prosecuting the priest is Ethan Thomas (The Amazing Spider-Man’s Campbell Scott) and on the defense, Erin Bruner (Sully’s Laura Linney).

One thing I appreciate is that film is scary without being repulsive (looking at you Child’s Play and Jeepers Creepers). Jennifer Carpenter gives a frighteningly good performance as the titular character in the film’s flashbacks, and the scenes where she’s thrashing and screaming in agony, are chilling to the bone. Wanting to go a different route Derrickson and screenwriter Paul Harris Boardman watched footage of real possessions and exorcisms and aimed for a more realistic portrayal that didn’t involve spinning heads, projectile vomiting and other exaggerations found in the genre.

What really struck me was the subject the movie raised on belief and religion; Thomas the prosecutor is a practicing Protestant while Bruner is an agnostic, but are both skeptical on the idea of a demon entering the body of a normal, good-hearted girl. Though one can make the argument that the film favors the more spiritual aspect, it never succumbs to being a piece of religious propaganda as it gives voice to both sides trying to fathom the mystery of Emily’s death from a medical, scientific, and religious standpoint.

Coincidently, Derrickson is an Evangelical Christian and Boardman, the screenwriter, is agnostic. In the end the film doesn’t offer a straight answer as the film leaves it to the audience to decide. Mind numbing, provocative (in a good way), and terrifying, Derrickson begins on a thrilling good note. Can success be repeated on his second feature involving a certain Matrix actor in a remake of a sci-fi classic from the fifties? Find out in next week’s issue of The East Texan.

Final Fun Fact: The film was green lit the same week Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ premiered in 2004. Coincidence? To quote my philosophy professor “there are no answers,” or I just simply have no idea.