When we think of horror movies, the adjective “Catholic” isn’t usually the first description that comes to mind, and for good reason. Most films in this genre don’t have anything to do with God or the faith, and the ones that do often give viewers little more than stereotyped caricatures of true Catholicism.
However, that’s not always the case. There are in fact some horror movies that depict our faith accurately and include genuinely Catholic themes, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose is one of them. It’s a 2005 movie loosely based on the real-life case of Annaliese Michel, a German girl whose death in 1976 after a series of exorcisms resulted in negligent homicide charges for the two priests who performed them.
It tells the story of a priest, Fr. Richard Moore, who is on trial for negligent homicide after the death of Emily Rose, a girl he unsuccessfully tried to exorcise. The main storyline follows the trial and the efforts of Fr. Moore’s agnostic attorney to defend her unconventional client, and it has flashbacks to Emily’s experiences leading up to her exorcism.
So how is this movie genuinely Catholic? I would suggest that two main elements make it deserving of that description.
A Priestly Example
First, we have the priest, Fr. Moore. Most Hollywood movies tend to portray Catholic priests as either boring killjoys or hypocritical monsters, but The Exorcism of Emily Rose is different. Fr. Moore is actually one of my favorite onscreen priests of all time. He never demeans his lawyer for her lack of faith, nor does he ever say anything uncharitable towards his prosecutors. Instead, he firmly but lovingly invites his attorney to consider the truth of the supernatural world and the Catholic faith, and he bravely endures the disbelief and mockery he experiences from the opposing side.
In fact, I even suspect that the filmmakers purposely modeled this character on Jesus himself, as Fr. Moore undergoes his “passion” in a very Christlike manner. He doesn’t worry about what people say or think about him. He doesn’t even care about whether he’s found guilty or innocent. He believes that God simply wants him to tell Emily’s story, and carrying out that divinely-given task is all he cares about.
Faith in the Midst of Suffering
Secondly, we have the title character, Emily Rose, who also lives out her faith in a heroic way. Much like her priest, she too seems to be modeled on Jesus. She suffered terribly during her possession, as she often couldn’t eat or control her body, and she was reduced to a withered version of her formerly youthful and exuberant self before she finally died. Nevertheless, she endured this suffering with tremendous courage. She accepted it as God’s will for her, and she even chose to embrace it as a means of conversion for others rather than ask God to take it away.
Of particular note is the end of her story, which is one of the most inspirational onscreen depictions of authentic Catholicism I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, so I’ll keep my comment about it brief. It’s the high point of the entire movie, and it presents viewers with a beautiful message about redemptive suffering and God’s power to bring tremendous good out of tremendous evil.
A Catholic Horror Movie
All in all, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is quite possibly the most Catholic horror movie I’ve ever seen. That may not sound like much, but I assure you that this movie is brimming with the faith from beginning to end. It takes a few artistic liberties with the details of possession and exorcism, but it gets Catholicim right when it matters most. The film presents us with two Christlike examples of heroic holiness in the face of great suffering, and its final message is one that every Catholic who watches it will wholeheartedly agree with.
So if you’re looking for a good horror movie to watch this Halloween season (or any other time of year), I highly recommend giving this one a shot. It’s an intriguing story with effective horror elements, so it’ll entertain you while it helps lift your mind and heart to God.