An elderly priest struggling to purge the demon possessing a hapless and innocent girl, her wrists are tied to the bedpost, is the classic image of exorcism imprinted on the minds of anyone who have seen the 1973 hit The Exorcist. Fast-forward to the present time, a new movie with an almost similar plot is sure to not only scare the wits out of viewers, but also raise curiosity about demonic possessions and exorcism.

Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, inspired by real events in the ‘70s involving a German teenager Anneliese Michel, loosely chronicles the story of a devout college student, Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), who leaves her rural home to study and pursue a scholarship in the city.

But away from home, Emily experiences alleged demonic attacks through a series of freaky ghoulish visions and random encounters with strangers whose faces turn into ghastly contortions.

More disturbing cases then force her to drop out of school and return to her hometown. Thought to be suffering from “psychotic epileptic disorder,” she is medicated with a drug, Gambutrol, to control her violent seizures.

But as Emily’s condition worsens, her family and the local priest Fr. Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) start to believe that she is suffering not from a disorder but from demonic possession. She is already exhibiting the signs—extraordinary strength and aversion to religious paraphernalia.

Fr. Moore, an authorized exorcist, performs the rite of exorcism with the victim’s consent and the approval of the archdiocese.

After a failed exorcism which leads to Emily’s death, Fr. Moore is accused of negligent homicide and is brought into court for advising the victim to discontinue taking Gambutrol, which could have improved her medical condition, and also for making her believe she was suffering from demonic possession and not from a disorder.

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Exorcising the demons

From the Greek term “ek horkizo,” which means “I cause (someone) to swear,” exorcism is the practice of expelling demons or evil spirits possessing a person or object.

But before a supposed victim can be exorcised, he must to show signs of possession like glossolalia, or the ability to converse or understand different languages previously unknown to the victim, hysteria, paranoia, clairvoyance, levitation, and extreme strength.

In Metro Manila, people who experience paranormal activities like demonic possession can seek help from the Commission on Visions and Phenomena of the Archdiocese of Manila.

The committee, headed by Fr. Jose Vidamor Yu, was established to aid the people with encountering extraordinary spiritual and extraordinary phenomena. Records of these paranormal activities date back to the Spanish times.

So far, Fr. Jose Francisco Syquia, a Theology professor at the San Carlos Seminary, is one of the few notable exorcists of the country. He started practicing the rite since 2000. He has worked with Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist and the president-for-life of the International Association of Exorcists.

Paraphernalia for the paranormal

The exorcism rite in the movie should give the viewers an idea of how it is done, but a closer look at it will reveal some inconsistencies with the real Roman ritual of exorcism.

In the movie, sacramental objects as specified in the Roman Ritual of Exorcism like the crucifix and holy water are present, but other important items, like the relic of a saint to make the exorcism more binding, are not.

According to Syquia, although relics of certain saints are not necessarily a requirement, they can greatly and effectively aid in weakening the demon’s hold over the possessed.

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“Relics are sacred objects that can hurt or burn the devil. It can torture the devil in such a way that it is driven away,” Syquia told the Varsitarian.

He explained that this stems from the fact that the saints were people who encountered and defeated the devil during their earthly lives.

In the Roman Rituals, it is also instructed that a Bible containing the New and Old Testaments should be carried by a priest in his left hand all throughout the exorcism. While the official document on exorcism clearly stresses the importance of relying on the words of the Bible instead of blurting out one’s own when exorcising, the movie’s Fr. Moore did not have the scriptures with him.

Syquia, who also teaches Spiritual Theology at San Carlos Seminary and who performed an exorcism rite last March, said an exorcist can use his own prayers, called “deliverance prayers,” but prayers in the Bible should be more powerful because they are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

“The word of God is like a weapon because it speaks about what is true and good, speaks of the victory of Christ over the devil,” he said.

Occult practice, such as witchcraft, is a case for exorcism as it weakens the person’s control over his body and consciousness.

“Last summer, I performed exorcism on a religious person who was bewitched by her friend. Gayuma is a form of occult practice that strengthens evil spirits to possess someone,” he said. “I had to exorcise her because her belly was unusually bloated. She was only healed after I let her drink lots of holy water.”

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A real-life exorcist starts the rite by blessing everybody present in the room with holy water to drive away or weaken evil spirits. Then, the priest-exorcist must put his right hand over the head of the possessed. But in the movie, the only time the priest touches Emily was when he placed the cross in her chest halfway through the failed exorcism.

Placing the right hand over the head of the victim is important in order to calm the evil spirit dwelling in the body.

Fear factor

Told through flashbacks of the witnesses’ testimonies during the trial, the story of Emily Rose may have downplayed a tad the authenticity of the exorcism rite, but it nevertheless has been faithful to the original accounts of what happened to Annaliese Michel.

With the value-added facet of courtroom drama, the movie proves to be no ordinary scary film out to exhaust audiences with cheap horrors without trying to convey any message. The Exorcism of Emily Rose banked its fear factor on freaky scenes which will most likely trigger the viewer’s imagination so that the viewer would be led to believe what happened to Rose could happen to anyone whether they believe in demons or not.

It would not be much of a surprise if viewers find The Exorcism of Emily Rose a disappointment in terms of its toned-down gore and thrilling scenes. After all, many expect the movie to deliver as much horror as The Exorcist. But instead, the audience will leave the cinemas more baffled with the complex reality of faith, possibilities and the unknown. Mary Rose M. Pabelonia and Kathleen T. Valle

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