Anneliese Michel (1952-1976) was a young woman whose epileptic seizures and hallucinations caused speculations amongst her strict Catholic family that she was possessed by demons. Michel herself was also convinced that her body was being taken over by the Devil. After various failed medical treatments and over sixty exorcisms that would sometimes last for hours, Michel died from malnutrition and dehydration.
This week's Double Feature was suggested by Martijn of OMG Entertainment and BloedLink FilmBlog, and both movies are based on the story of Anneliese Michel. Each film, however, tells her story from a different perspective, with one taking certain liberties for the sake of translating into a presentable and marketable horror movie while the other stays loyal to what really went down.
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE is a film that I had purposely avoided over the years, mainly because I'm just not a fan of movies about exorcism and the Catholic church in general. According to the title cards at the opening, EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE was indeed based on a true story. What they failed to mention is that it's loosely based on a true story and that the facts were greatly exaggerated. The same can be said for pretty much every other horror movie that claims to be "based on a true story", but I totally understand the logic behind this. It's marketing. If people are dumb enough to believe something like this is real, they're gonna tell their friends about it and it'll create a chain reaction of gullible people dumping money into a film like this.
Watching it, I was shocked to find out that EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE is essentially a courtroom drama, not a horror movie. There are certainly elements of a horror movie, but the entire film evolves around a court case, and the story of Emily Rose is told through said trial as various people are testifying. I was also shocked to find out that the film takes place in present-day. Going into it, I figured it would be a proper biopic of Anneliese Michel, albeit with the names and locations changed to protect the innocent and what-have-you, but it's not the case at all (no pun intended). That right there should give you an idea of how little of the "true story" is intact. How it's all set up is that Emily (Jennifer Carpenter) dies during an exorcism, and so her exorcist, Bishop Moore, is held responsible and subsequently imprisoned and put on trial. A hotshot female lawyer named Erin is more or less assigned to defend the Bishop by her Law Firm, which she's not too happy about for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, she takes the case with hopes that she can get some exposure out of it. The trial proves to be an eye-opening and life-changing experience for Erin, who realizes that perhaps there are some dark forces out there that defy logical explanation.
As you'd expect, there's a lot of discussion and debating regarding the age old argument of religion versus medicine, paranormal phenomena versus scientific explanation, so on and so forth. The court case allows both sides of the argument to be heard and both interpretations of the circumstances surrounding Emily's death to be told. The film, it should be said, is understandably bias towards the supernatural angle for cinematic effect. In the meantime, we get to see Jennifer Carpenter's utterly chilling portrayal of Emily Rose, culminating with one of the most impressive and frightening demonic possession sequences I have ever seen.
PRIMAL FEAR! Aside from that, this is a very watchable movie, which is usually the case with courtroom dramas in which there are constant developments and reveals that move the story along. The film does drag somewhat towards the end, and it's arguable that it slightly overstays its welcome at around two hours in length, but there's still that lingering pay-off of how the trial will end. Ultimately, I didn't quite understand the logic behind certain decisions that Linney's character made, and I don't really know how to feel about the outcome of the case, but I'll just leave it at that. As a "true story", this film is a joke, but as a film that tackles the subject of demonic possession and presents it in an interesting way, you could do a lot worse than EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE.
Germany's REQUIEM on the other hand is much more loyal to the story of Anneliese. Based on the little amount of research I did on her (enough to get the gist of the circumstances surrounding her affliction and death), I can confidently say that REQUIEM doesn't change anything at all except for the names of the characters and perhaps specific locations.
This film is set in the 70s but you don't really see this until Michaela goes to college and you hear certain music played in nightclubs and see some dated fashion trends. I'm a fan of period films that don't beat you over the head with references to pop culture and various trends, especially when those films aren't necessarily about a specific decade. Something else I'm a fan of is when movies tackle touchy subjects like religion and present everything in an unbiased manner while still questioning certain things in a way that won't turn anyone off, regardless of religious preference. REQUIEM brilliantly plays with how the characters in the film are presented and how their faith comes into play as the story evolves. This results in Michaela being torn in different directions as her condition worsens, with people on one side trying to use science and medicine to save her while others seek the help of God. The thing is, there are no right or wrong answers here, even when you look back at the source material. Both sides failed.
CRUISING look like Travolta in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. All of that being said, if you want to see any cinematic interpretations of Anneliese Michele's doomed existence, EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE and REQUIEM are two options, with the former being the more accessible but exaggerated version and the latter being the more loyal to what really happened.