Friday, September 09, 2005

Movies opening this week

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Jennifer Carpenter, dir. Scott Derrickson)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I'm disappointed that this is getting such negative reviews, because I really think it's one of the best movies of the year. There are moments when it's hokey or clumsy, but I think casting all these excellent actors elevates any missteps in the scripting and lends the whole movie an air of respectability, which is something it needs to make it work. What bothers me the most about some of the negative reviews is the sort of closed-minded reactionary stance that people are taking about the religious/supernatural subject matter. I am not a religious person in any way (in fact you could even describe me as anti-religious), but the way that some critics are taking what to me is an endorsement of keeping an open mind about the potential unknown wonders of the universe as some right-wing screed against science and in favor of widespread exorcisms is really troublesome. I usually like Slate's David Edelstein, but his review is such condescending, elitist bullshit that it really kind of pissed me off. The AV Club's Scott Tobias does the same thing in his review. I mean, if you think the plotting was bad or the dialogue was cheesy or the acting was ineffective, okay. I may disagree, but okay.

But Edelstein calls it an "assault on the reality-based secular community" and "propaganda." Not only do I think he's overreacting to the movie's perceived message, but I also think that he's perceiving the message wrong. Yes, Derrickson sides with Wilkinson's priest, who is a man of deep faith. But the movie does present both sides of the argument, even depicting the same scenes twice, once from the demonic perspective and again from the medical perspective. I didn't find the prosecutor to be a caricatured villain; he's clearly as principled as Linney's defense attorney. And while the message is definitely to be open to the idea that medication isn't the only solution to life's problems, that's also the message of plenty New Age-y, hippiefied movies that have nothing at all to do with Christianity. If I were presented with this situation in real life, I'd not hesitate to convict the priest of negligent homicide. I don't believe in possession and I don't believe in God, and this movie didn't convince me otherwise. It did, however, represent a point of view that, whether people like David Edelstein and Scott Tobias (or me, for that matter) like it or not, is prevalent in America. And unlike the blood-gushing, heavy-handed Passion of the Christ (which, for the record, I thought was a good movie), it did so in a balanced and measured way. I don't think you have to share that point of view in order to find the film intriguing for the questions it raises; questions that, however much we may want them to, are not going to go away. Wide release


Anonymous said...

Okay, I can see where you're coming from on this, and your review, particularly its analysis of the movie as a comment on horror films, made the movie seem much more interesting. But I just don't think it's all that good. It's effectively creepy, but I don't see anything in this movie that wasn't done better in The Exorcist... especially its religious themes. I just feel like The Exorcist dealt with faith on a more complex and subtler level (though that may be because I read the book as well.) And this movie
becomes increasingly less even-handed as the film goes on, which denies the audience a real opportunity to make their own decision about the case. That wasn't my major beef, though; mainly, it just felt derivative and corny. (Which is not surprising for a courtroom drama.) And predictable-- before that one guy even appeared on screen, my sister said, "I bet he's gonna die." (Actually, she really liked the movie, though.)

So I'm not convinced it's a very good movie. But I do agree with you about what the critics have been saying. Do they want all movies to treat religion as only the province of nutty bigots? Surely they can allow other perspectives. Those reviews you linked to are bullshit.

(I can't see any redeeming value in The Passion of the Christ, but that's another matter, of course.)

Josh said...

Well, I didn't read The Exorcist and I remember being mildly disappointed with the movie, although it's been several years since I saw it. I don't, therefore, feel entirely confident to say whether The Exorcist does the religious themes better. I do remember that it was more focused on the scary parts, while in this movie the scary parts seemed almost incidental (although well done). It was, at times, derivative and corny, but I felt that when that happened the actors managed to sell the material as more than it might have appeared to be in the script.

As for the even-handedness, it does become a little more lopsided as the film goes on, but I thought that was more a function of focusing on the main characters (clearly the film is mostly about Father Moore and his lawyer, not the prosecutor). Could it have been a little more balanced? Yes, but I thought it handled the balance remarkably well. A more standard horror movie would have had none at all.

Maybe in my defensiveness at all the bad reviews I'm giving it more weight than it deserves, but I was so pleasantly surprised at the thoughtfulness (and perhaps so numbed by the summer of crap) that I'm eager to voice my approval.