Friday, December 16, 2005

Exorcism of Emily Rose

I'm not a big fan of the horror genre.
It's probably because I see through the conventions of the genre. I see the set up coming a mile away, the music is insulting with it's manipulation of feelings, the visual tricks don't usually surprise or scare me. It's also hard for me to feel any empathy for the characters of horror movies because they are not fleshed out or realistic. Most of the time they are all dead meat walking.
For some reason whenever I see an actor scared, or running away from a killer, I picture them in the food line at craft services on the movie set.
In other words, I'm extremely aware that they are acting.....or at least trying to act.
I can think of only three times while watching a movie that I felt genuine fear.
The dinner scene in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, watching the movie the Exorcist, and watching the movie Poltergeist.
In the case of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the fear I felt was more of an adrenaline rush, a visceral fear. Those are magical moments in movies, extremely rare like catching lightning in a bottle. I rarely ever feel that kind of fear while watching a movie.
In the case of the other two movies, they followed a seemingly simple formula that is inexplicably rarely used in movies, and creates a long lasting, almost traumatic type of fear.
At least for me, there's a very simple formula for creating fear in an audience.
Create the helplessness of likeable characters through science.
When you back up helplessness through science, suddenly you're stuck with something truly scary....the unknown.
It's not the special effects or sound, or music that really scares audiences. It's the idea that we can't explain why something is happening.
For me, genuine fear is created when the writer, and director go the extra mile, and put the characters through realistic medical tests, and honestly try to solve the problems through logic BEFORE giving in to the special effects.
The movie the Exorcism of Emily Rose is ambitious because it's not really a horror film. It eventually gives in to the conventions of the horror genre, but it's more of a court room drama interested in raising questions that LIGHTLY touch on the horror formula I speak of.
What's admirable about the movie is that it doesn't really try to preach to you about Religion. It has the opportunity to EASILY go that way, but in the end it respects and even honors the view of logic and science.
There are two opposing views in the film. The medical view that Emily Rose was suffering from psychotic epilepsy, and the spiritual view which was that she was really possessed..... by the devil.
Um...yeah, not realistic.
However, CINEMATICALLY.....both views are equally chilling.
The movie is loosely based on a case from Germany in 1974, the girl's name was Anneliese Michel, she was given an exorcism that failed, she died from starvation, and in the aftermath of the controversy, the church later acknowledged the girl was not actually possessed. You can check the whole story out here:
The movie benefits from the presence of solid character actors Laura Linney, Campbell Scott and Tom Wilkinson. They give the movie a feeling of legitimacy. What's admirable is that the case of mental illness is not short changed. Sure the emotional impact of the movie leans toward the spiritual argument of the events. But everything that happens in the movie is clearly explained through science and medicine.
I don't believe the movie is a complete success however, and I can't completely recommend the film. There are soap opera type moments in the movie. One moment in particular, the death of an important witness, is just plain ridiculous, and laughably executed. I would have also liked to see more of Campbell Scott's character. Lots of the horror stuff is also not effective and unnecessary, sort of like the makers knew they needed shots for the trailer to spice up interest.
The most effective thing about the film was that for the most part, it didn't treat the audience like complete idiots.
Which is rare in horror films.

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