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Originally published Friday, September 9, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Out, odd transgressions!

Scott Derrickson's the-devil-made-me-do-it thriller, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," is an uneven but commendable effort; at times, it feels...

Seattle Times movie critic

Scott Derrickson's the-devil-made-me-do-it thriller, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," is an uneven but commendable effort; at times, it feels as if it suffers from a little demonic possession of its own.

A strong cast, headed by Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson and Campbell Scott, gives smart performances, and the screenplay by Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman is measured and intelligent, if not always artful. But then ... well, occasionally something else takes hold of this film, swooping it off its path of thoughtful competence, to the extent that you wonder what the exorcised version of this film might look like.

Told mostly in flashbacks (and supposedly based on a true story), the film is centered on the court trial of Father Richard Moore (Wilkinson), a priest who was called upon to perform an exorcism of a young woman, Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), at her family's remote farmhouse.

When Emily dies during the rite, Moore is charged with negligent homicide, and lawyer Erin Bruner (Linney) agrees to represent him, opposite prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Scott).

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"The Exorcism of Emily Rose," with Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Colm Feore, Jennifer Carpenter, Shohreh Aghdashloo. Directed by Scott Derrickson, from a screenplay by Paul Harris Boardman and Derrickson. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including intense/frightening sequences and disturbing images. Several theaters.

The question they must argue: Do demons exist? Moore notes sadly that they do, "whether you believe in them or not."

In an airy courtroom with stained-glass windows that suggest a church, a taut drama unfolds. Thomas presents himself as a "man of faith"; Bruner as a "woman of doubts." (Earlier, we've seen them have a tense meeting at a bar seemingly only populated by lawyers, in which Scott manages to convey, with only the pointed word "Counselor," how much his character dislikes Bruner.)

The courtroom scenes are enjoyable as we watch the lawyers perform their elaborate dance of seduction with the jury; the actors hold themselves tightly in their precise suits, perfectly controlled.

These scenes are a vivid contrast with the flashbacks, which almost seem directed by somebody else. (Is Lucifer making films these days?) Poor Emily, seen in her student days as her hallucinations begin, seems to be attending the University of Hell.

It's always dark and stormy outside, even during class time; the buildings glow in dark-red spotlights, and Emily and her fellow students look hollow-eyed and malnourished.

And while the configurations into which Carpenter twists her face and body are impressive, much of the possession scenes seem wildly over-the-top. (In one, the crazed Emily races out to the barn, where she scares the heck out of the horses.)

These scenes are certainly restrained compared with the pea-soup histrionics of "The Exorcist," and surely demonic possession isn't meant to be pretty, but they take the movie to a different and faintly cheesy realm.

As courtroom drama, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" works effectively; as a scarefest, it misses the mark. But the performances stick with you, particularly that of Linney, who has an elegant steeliness.

"I'm here to make senior partner in my firm," she tells Moore, in his jail cell — she's not looking to question any beliefs, or to acquire any. By the end, her face has relaxed just a bit; something, somehow, has been answered for her.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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