Director Scott Derrickson seems to be a fan of scaring of us. This, in my humble opinion, is never a bad thing. My love of horror will always be with me, and when a filmmaker arrives on the scene with the flair and eye for a story I can get involved in, I’ll keep looking out for his creations.
Here, I take a look back at his directorial debut before I give a short preview of his latest effort, which will be screening at FrightFest the 13th.
THEN: The Exorcism of Emily Rose
In 2005 director Scott Derrickson released his debut feature with the now over-used ‘based on a true story’ crutch that many horror films seem to be adept at shoe-horning into their stories. Fortunately, on this occasion, we were given a film that was both solid and entertaining.
The story of a priest (Tom Wilkinson) who faces negligent homicide charges after a young woman dies under his watch, Derrickson’s film takes an unexpected turn as we are presented with the eerie goings on involving Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) via flashbacks at Father Moore’s court case. Beginning with the aftermath of Emily’s death, the finger is pointed at Moore and the part he may have played in it. Having been accepted to college on a scholarship, Emily is soon suffering from hallucinations, paranoia and ghostly goings on in her dorm. An unseen entity forces itself upon her, physically abusing her and quickly leaving her at its mercy. As her mental state fractures, she begins seeing things that may, or may not, be imagined.
With the flashbacks interspersed with the trial, the prosecution claim Emily Rose was suffering from a combination of epilepsy and psychosis, insisting Father Moore talked her into foregoing her medication because he believed she was channeling the devil. Was Emily Rose’s death avoidable? Was it a direct result of Father Moore’s negligence or was it something more sinister?
What Derrickson crafted was a tight and taught horror-cum-courtroom drama anchored by some nice visual flourishes and a quite brilliant performance from Carpenter. In fact, it’s the lead actress who steals the show from some more established stars. It’s clear she threw herself into the role and, in the end, you begin to care about what happens/happened to her. Her reaction to what she’s experiencing help create a feeling of sympathy. Laura Linney as the defence lawyer also brings some added gravitas. She seems at odds with her own beliefs – is what she’s being told true? Will any modicum of doubt bring the downfall of the case? These are all questions that will flash through your mind, as they do hers.
As for Derrickson, the atmosphere he creates at just the right moments help keep The Exorcism of Emily Rose from becoming just another hum-drum ‘exorcism’ movie. The visions of an evil face in the sky during a lightning storm, how Emily sees the faces of those around her changing to something creepy and even the big scene where her alleged ‘possession’ comes to the surface all provide enough tension and dread that it ensures questions will still be asked by the time the credits roll.
In fact, where it works best is probably with the ambiguous ending. Rather than turning the key and unlocking for us, Derrickson leaves it up to us to decide exactly what happened. It’s a far better film than it ought to be, and that’s testament to everyone involved.
Ethan Hawke stars as true-crime novelist Ellison who moves to a new home with his young family. Upon arriving at the house, Ellison discovers a batch of video tapes that give him reason to believe a family was murdered in the house. But questions start to arise surrounding who – or what – is responsible for those deaths and whether it was behind murders from previous decades.
Dabbling in paganism and the occult, Sinister certainly seems like Derrickson has refined his craft with some supernatural imagery, symbolism and a horror villain that we can get on board with. It’s no understatement to say that Sinister could well be 2012′s very own Insidious – which, if you’ve seen, is a creepy cracker!