The Exorcist is one of the horror genre’s preeminent films, with a story and special effects that are creepy enough to get under the skin of even the most-jaded modern moviegoers. When The Exorcism of Emily Rose was announced, plenty of people groaned that the re-imagining of the story would not only bomb, but take away from the classic film’s legacy. Upon its theatrical release, those concerns vanished like a demonic apparition, replaced instead with comments about the film’s attention to detail and unique adaptation of the 1970s story.
Fast forward to this summer, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s release of The Exorcism of Emily Rose on Blu-ray Disc has been greeted with much more enthusiasm. Not only is the movie surprisingly well-made and enjoyable, but its Blu-ray presentation is among the best so far of Sony’s summer releases, even if the bonus features do leave something to be desired.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose tells the familiar tale of a family whose daughter, Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), died after a ritual exorcism by Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson). Jailed for killing, Fr. Moore eventually agrees to be represented by an agnostic attorney named Erin Bruner (played by Laura Linney), who defends him on behalf of the Archdiocese. Problem is, the Archdiocese doesn’t want the good Father to talk, but he wants nothing more than for “the community to know the truth” and to “hear Emily’s story.”
With the courtroom serving as a surprisingly dramatic backdrop — after all, who expects a courtroom drama to be married to horror? — the majority of Emily’s exorcism story is told via flashbacks. These sequences are expertly weaved into the case as various witnesses take the stand, making the movie feel edited more like a best-selling novel than a theatrical film. The “current time” sequences also provide flashback opportunities, although the majority of them focus on fleshing out character motivations and show how Erin Bruner evolve from agnostic to… someone with some sort of belief system. In many respects, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is more courtroom drama than horror film, but no matter how you categorize the film, its writing, editing and special effects are right up there. The only odd part is the ending, which feels a bit too convenient, but since the movie’s based on a real story, it’s not like the filmmakers fabricated much.
As good as the film itself is, the audio and visual aspects of this Blu-ray Disc are equally impressive. Because it’s primarily a courtroom drama, there’s technically nothing that would stress the frame rate or special effects categories, but even so, the 1080p AVC MPEG-4 video pushes through every fast cut and fast-paced sequence without a single hiccup, maintaining a rock-solid 31 mbps transfer rate. The video itself is also incredibly crisp, with sharp lines and little to no grain, even on macro shots. This is particularly noteworthy considering the use of color to connote moods and themes; even when fields of solid colors are used, you’ll never detect any crawl.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track is also top notch, a factor that might be lost on drama-movie fans but will be (pardon the pun) music to the ears of horror-film fans. Ever since the days of Hitchcock’s Psycho, audio has been held up as one of the most important aspects to setting mood and subconscious intensity levels. And that’s something that far too many horror films overlook (the cheap ones, anyway). Subtle environmental audio touches in the rear channels immerse you in each scene, while the special effects sounds maintain just the right balance. There’s also good differentiation of dialogue when indoors vs. outdoors, even depending on the type of indoor area in each scene.
If there’s a dropoff in the Blu-ray presentation, it’s in the discs’ bonus features, which are only a few in number and only appear in 480p. The first is a Director’s Commentary, which covers all the usual subjects but is somewhat superfluous if you watch Genesis of the Story (19:48), a featurette that goes into the filmmakers’ history researching the story — including hearing a snippet of the original recording of Emily Rose’s actual exorcism. At the core of the filmmakers’ objectives was to inspire moviegoers to question their own life and faith by seeing various questions and topics manifested in a horror film. However, in trying to achieve this, they say researching this film was quite difficult, both because it was unpleasant and disturbing and because they struggled with deciding how to adapt such an involved legal case into a digestible story for the big screen.
Casting the Movie (12:23) provides some interesting insight into the writer’s psyche, as he says he didn’t have any actors in mind when writing the screenplay because he wanted to know the characters in the story, not the actors. Oddly enough, Laura Linney was initially skeptical about the film and actually had to be won over to take on the role of Erin Bruner. However, once she was on board, she herself was instrumental in casting two main characters for the film. What’s nice about this feature, unlike most others of this type, is that it’s not the director or producer stroking the actors’ egos, but the actors themselves talking about their co-workers. The one thing this feature is missing is a collection of clips from Jennifer Carpenter’s second read-through, which apparently sealed the deal for her getting the role. If that read through was so compelling, it would’ve been nice to see a “first vs. second” video comparison of her readings.
Visual Design (18:58) is a comprehensive review of the costume and color palette discussions that took place before principal photography began. With most horror films, it’s pretty easy to make terrifying things look ugly, but in this movie’s case, they’re trying to make the terrifying elements look a bit more realistic (and thus a bit scarier), so they did some serious work with camera angles and color palettes. Costume design also posed a challenge, as the actual exorcism took place in the 1970s, but the filmmakers wanted to make a movie with a much more timeless appeal, which involved colors, patterns and cuts that could be applied to all periods. Of course, the ’70s are back in style now, so they probably could’ve just used modern clothes and called it good.
Rounding out the bonus features is one Deleted Scene with Optional Commentary (2:41). Of all the bonus features, this is by far the most confusing. The scene plays out as Erin Bruner almost has a one-night stand with a fellow lawyer. Although a few possibilities present themselves about where this scene may have appeared before being cut, there’s no real context, which can be confusing. Presumably this scene took place before Bruner’s initial 3:00 am scare, thus making viewers think that perhaps the door opening in the following scene was a rapist, not a demon. If that’s the case, this scene being cut was very worth while. Suffice it to say, “commentary on” is a necessary option for this short bonus.
Even with the occasional confusion and lack of true HD support, the bonus features still don’t manage to weight down too heavily on this otherwise excellent film. For all the grief people gave the filmmakers upon the film’s announcement, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is not only a well-produced film, but a well-produced Blu-ray Disc as well. If the incessant flow of teenie-bopper horror flicks has tired you out this summer, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is definitely worth a watch.
Shop for The Exorcism of Emily Rose on Blu-ray at Amazon.com.