Jennifer Carpenter as Emily Rose
To be fair, it strains itself to be too many things at once: horror movie, detective yarn, courtroom melodrama… with theology flapping in the wings. Plus, the screenplay (co-written by Paul Harris Boardman and director Scott Derrickson) squanders a potentially dynamic subplot about an agnostic lawyer looking to prove the existence of God in court to free her client, the priest charged with Emily’s murder.
Emily Rose piqued my interest in the true story which turned out to be, as one would expect, far grittier and sadder. The girl’s real name was Anneliese Michel, a German and devout Catholic who exhibited signs of epilepsy and psychosis in her late teens. She took prescription drugs to quell these outbreaks, which became more frequent and uncontrollable in her early twenties. Anneliese, her parents and their parish priests eventually assumed she was possessed by demons and subjected her to more than sixty-five exorcisms in ten months. Suffering from dehydration, malnourishment, pneumonia and high fever as a result of the rituals, she died at the age of twenty-three, her body weighing just sixty-eight pounds. Her parents and the two priests stood trial for her death which, the state argued, was the result of religious fanaticism and could’ve been avoided with hospitalization. All these circumstances suggest a medieval tragedy, but Anneliese lived from 1952 to 1976.
Since then she’s become an icon in modern German folklore, prompting Felicitas D. Goodman to write at length about her case in The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel (Resource Publications, 2005). Perhaps in response to Emily Rose, screenwriter Bernd Lange and director Hans-Christian Schmid took a realistic course in the barely-seen film, Requiem (2006). It’s a docudrama of an innocent incapable of pleasing her manipulative parents, while cracking under the strain of academia, peer pressure, medicine and religion. In regard to her possession, Lange and Schmid resist the usual horror movie hyperbole to portray an insidious disease rapidly consuming the girl, her family, friends and the community. Sandra Hüller is excellent in the part, changing personalities freely and convincingly. And Schmid, working with little money in 16mm, has created an evocative 1970s period piece.
Above: This clip combines images of Anneliese Michel with an actual recording of her during an exorcism.
Labels: Capsule reviews