Inspired by true events we are told Emily Rose's harrowing tale through her priest Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson). As sanctioned by the Catholic Church Father Moore tried to perform an exorcism on the girl but failed. On trial for what the prosecution calls Emily's "negligent murder " Father Moore isn't afraid to go to jail. He is just desperate to tell Emily's story--how this fresh-faced seemingly healthy 19-year-old farm girl (Jennifer Carpenter) goes off to college and comes back home speaking in tongues eating giant bugs and apparently inhabited by not just one but six separate demons who finally kill her. This is what Emily's family and Father Moore firmly believe happened to her. The medical community however claims Emily suffered from a combination of epilepsy and psychosis that without proper medication resulted in her death. In a case that will certainly further her career if she wins whip-smart defense lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) sets out to prove Father Moore only wanted to help. While the facts are laid out the underlying question as to whether supernatural and evil entities truly exist remains constant. Don't expect any answers.
The cast's riveting performances is the real reason why Emily Rose isn't an original TV movie. Through Linney (Kinsey) Wilkinson (In the Bedroom) and Campbell Scott (Roger Dodger) who plays the prosecuting attorney we get three varying views on the subject of demon possession. Erin represents those who just don't know what they believe and Linney does a convincing job portraying a woman who is trying to do her job but at the same time is bothered by how it's affecting her. As the prosecuting attorney Scott is the naysayer. He's a devout Methodist but he doesn't believe in the Catholic notion of possession and exorcism. And of course Father Moore is the true believer. Wilkinson doesn't play him as a crackpot; rather he gives the character a calm intelligence. He also shows us a man who has been deeply affected not only by his failure to help Emily but by his compulsion to tell her story to the rest of the world. Then there's Carpenter as the tortured Emily. Apparently after director Scott Derrickson saw what the young newcomer could do with her body and voice to make being invaded by demons believable (pay close attention to her hands) he knew he would need very little special effects. Carpenter does an amazing job--without ever spewing green goo.
More than just a head-spinning pea-soup-vomiting horror flick Emily Rose roots its terror in reality which in a way makes it creepier. Now I'm not saying The Exorcist isn't one of the most frightening movies ever made but Derrickson who also co-wrote Emily Rose takes the horrifying idea of demon possession and turns it into something less graphic and more thought provoking. To begin with it's a little unnerving to know the Catholic Church is taking exorcisms pretty seriously. You might scratch your head on this one wondering if angels and demons really do exist. If at 3 a.m. the witching hour does indeed begin then the smell of something burning (sulfur perhaps?) means the demons have come out to play. Still in analyzing Emily's case through a courtroom the movie leans toward those soapbox Perry Mason-style speeches about fact vs. faith. Some of them work and are executed with full effect especially Erin's closing argument. But you know that if the same film starred Melissa Gilbert and Richard Chamberlain it'd be on the USA Network.
The vampire Lestat de Lioncourt (Stuart Townsend) wakes from a hundred-year sleep to the rock 'n' roll present day and likes what he sees and hears. Tired of the vampire's solitary life he becomes the frontman for an unknown rock band and transforms it into the latest greatest thing gaining the adulation of millions. He also decides to disregard the unspoken rule that vampires must hide away from the rest of world and writes songs encoded with specifics of the secret life of vampires. As expected Lestat's lyrics draw the attention of both the bloodsuckers who want to destroy him and the human vampire scholars (called the Talamasca) who want to study him. One young Talamascan student Jesse Reeves (Marguerite Moreau) becomes obsessed with Lestat after reading his journal from the 1800s. She learns that Lestat had a brief encounter with Queen Akasha (Aaliyah) the most ancient and dangerous vampire to ever exist and the mother of all who walk the Earth in search of blood. He gets his chance to meet Akasha again when his music awakens her from an ancient slumber. She rises and seeks out Lestat to become her king and join her in ruling the world.
The film truly belongs to Townsend and fans of the Anne Rice's novels will be happy to know he completely embodies the charismatic vampire Lestat. The little-known Irish actor who starred in last year's indie About Adam with Kate Hudson rules the screen whenever he is on it and luckily he's on it quite a lot. He's especially powerful when he is in rock star mode. Although Moreau's Jesse is fairly one dimensional she comes alive in her scenes with Townsend. Let's hope they keep asking him to play Lestat (when and if they make any more films from Rice's vampire novels) and next time give him an actress he can have some real chemistry with. The late R&B singer Aaliyah made her second film appearance in Damned as the queen. Even though she is only in the film a short time she possesses a certain charm as the ancient and evil Queen Akasha and makes a great first impression by destroying a vampire coven. Yet her acting skills are just not up to par with the rest of the cast including the charismatic Vincent Perez as the vampire Marius and Lena Olin as the kind-hearted vampire Maharet.
Damned was set to be released in the fall of last year but word of mouth had the film destined for the video shelf before it even made it to the big screen. Then tragedy struck and as the news of Aaliyah's untimely death echoed throughout the world of entertainment Warner Bros. wisely decided to hold onto it and release it in theaters at a more favorable time knowing there would be an audience who'd want to see the singer's last film. Yet for all the bad press surrounding it Damned actually pleasantly surprises you due largely in part to Townsend's mesmerizing performance. Michael Rymer's direction is not a masterpiece of filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination but it has a certain MTV quality about it which makes it appealing. That same quality however also makes it too slick glossing over the meatier parts of Rice's novel making the dialogue and action trite and sometimes downright silly. Come to think of it the 1994 Interview With the Vampire also suffered from the same thing. Maybe translating Rice's words is harder than it looks.