The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Also: Memory of a Killer (The Alzheimer Case) and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Opens Fri., Sept. 9, at Metro and others

All the signs are there. An emaciated girl/demon with green-tinted skin, cracked lips, and a dirty mouth. A devout and selfless Catholic priest determined to perform an exorcism despite his reluctant superiors. There's even the eerie "based on a true story" marketing hook. But Laura Linney? What the hell is the Oscar nominee (Kinsey, You Can Count on Me) doing in this bizarre exorcism retread? You could call it The Exorcist: The Class- Action Lawsuit, since she plays a jaded, uptight lawyer defending the priest (Tom Wilkinson, looking better in his Eternal Sunshine days) whose exorcism of a college girl went very, very wrong. Cast against type, the usually fiercely independent Campbell Scott plays the Bible-thumping prosecutor, creepy down to his salt-and-pepper hair and molester-ish mustache.

Disappointingly, there's not even any projectile green vomiting in Emily Rose, which is supposedly based on a German trial from 35 years ago. The film is split between the courtroom and flashbacks leading up to the exorcism. Emily Rose herself (Jennifer Carpenter, convincingly satanic) is dead at the outset, so we later watch her change from a sweet coed to a hateful harpy who scratches, bites, eats spiders off the floor, and argues in a tangled web of demon voices. (The movie stops short, however, of Linda Blair–level misbehavior; we wouldn't want to scare off the audience with an R rating.)

Back in the present, Linney's agnostic lawyer begins having night visitors and doubts about her lack of faith. Intercutting between the negligent-homicide trial and the exorcism flashbacks distinguishes Emily Rose from being just another cheap horror flick. And if all you want is a good scare, it does that, too. If nothing else, the movie gets you thinking about whether the girl was actually a psychotic or an epileptic who didn't get the right medical diagnosis. But here's an even more disturbing question: Is Laura Linney's agent actually the one possessed by the devil? How else could we explain her in such a wacky role? (PG-13) HEATHER LOGUE

Memory of a Killer (The Alzheimer Case)

Opens Fri., Sept. 9, at Varsity

It's a good thing that Erik Van Looy's Belgian film-fest smash The Alzheimer Case was retitled for U.S. consumption. It's not some boring medical case history, but an excellent, arty, pulse-pounding thriller about a hit man (Jan Decleir) with incipient Alzheimer's. (Important numbers and facts he jots on his arm à la Memento.) Sure, he forgets that he's already ordered French fries when he sits down with his boss for his assassination assignments, and he does make one crucial mistake on which the plot turns, but that's about the only illness we see him suffer. Even in what looks to be his 70s, he's as fast and implacable as the laser dots and bullet patterns he plants with such precision. Decleir (Rosenstrasse) has a great noir face, tough and melancholy, a hard killer on the surface yet with a soft center. What his condition contributes is not so much head-fuzzing symptoms, but a general sweaty awareness that he doesn't have much time to get his cold job done.

The real twist is that we sympathize with him completely. Assigned to knock off a hooker pimped at age 12 by her daddy, he tries to spare her life and retire from the profession. His bosses turn on him; he turns on them. The conspiracy of pederasts extends, you'll be shocked to hear, to the highest levels of government. Yet the bloody conclusion isn't foregone, and the peppy chase offers lots of diverting wrinkles. The honest cops on the hit man's trail (Koen De Bouw and Werner De Smedt) race to keep up with the clues he deliberately leaves them (so that if his Alzheimer's kicks in, they'll finish the conspiracy-busting task). They're also in a race with their corrupt higher-ups. The two good cops are underdogs with an innovative way to show their class hatred of aristos and officials who drive pricey BMWs: They piss in the keyholes. Beamer owners beware! This could catch on.

The plot romps, jazzed and jolted by time-trippy jump cuts. The acting is superb throughout, plumping up the flattest of generic characters (the trigger-happy young cop, the cautious top cop with a bitter back story). Memory of a Killer is the best thriller in recent memory. You won't forget it. (R) TIM APPELO

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Runs Fri., Sept. 9–Thurs., Sept. 15, at Northwest Film Forum

A revenge tragedy as brutal and Byzantine as Titus Andronicus, Park Chan-wook's 2002 Sympathy accomplishes a miraculous feat by being harrowing and humane in equal measure. One misfortune piles hard upon another in a breathless domino effect precipitated by a woman's kidney disease: For want of a suitable donor, her deaf-mute brother, Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), visits a black-market ring, which leads to organ theft, which in turn prompts kidnapping, suicide, and several revenge killings of Jacobean savagery. To divulge any more would compromise a drama that is predicated on a stupefying succession of human suffering. But what elevates Sympathy above mere sensationalism—and the misanthropic meting out of punishment in its successor, Oldboy—is an acute social conscience. No director diagnoses the dolorous underbelly of contemporary Korea as perceptively as Park, who examines a nation reeling from economic free fall: unemployed masses, unmoved (and even bemused) employers, Seoul blanketed in shantytowns of which the upper class is blissfully unaware, and hospitals treating only those who can pay. Though deserving of retribution, Ryu acts out of a deterministic miasma of human indifference—precisely why there is sympathy for this avenger. (R) JAMES CRAWFORD

 
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