- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

All good Christians, the Good Book says, have a duty to proselytize, spreading their faith and the Word of God to others.

Yet director Scott Derrickson, an avowed Christian, battles that impulse every time he loads his camera.

The young writer/director doesn’t subscribe to the in-your-face Michael Moore school of filmmaking, which asks artists to use every tool at their disposal to nudge, cajole or bludgeon audiences into ideological submission.

“That’s the last thing people want when they watch a movie,” says Mr. Derrickson, unbowed by the stout box office receipts from Mr. Moore’s oeuvre. “No one wants to be preached at.”

Film, he says during a recent chat to promote “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (opening nationwide tomorrow), is a great medium for questions — and for stoking debates, not resolving them.

When shooting “Emily Rose,” which follows the true tale of a priest on trial for his role in the death of a young woman reportedly possessed by demons, Mr. Derrickson kept Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” of all movies, firmly in mind.

“Rather than focusing on a particular answer to the problem, it was dissecting the problem and getting the volatile subject matter out in the open,” he says of the Oscar-nominated 1989 film.

In its own way, “Emily Rose” raises questions not only about faith but of good versus evil. The film takes a sympathetic look at the true story of a church-approved exorcism and its deadly result. Did the priest in question wrongly ignore a young woman’s doctor in taking her medication away, or was he simply not strong enough to beat back the demons churning within her?

Mr. Derrickson sees the horror genre as a ripe way to tackle tough questions; much like the black humor in “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” forced viewers to confront their positions on war and peace.

Horror films are also a good medium for young filmmakers to make their mark, Mr. Derrickson says — and it’s one reason the struggling “Project: Greenlight” series asked its young director to create a fright flick last season.

“It’s the shrewdest genre for a young writer-director to pursue at a low budget level. It’s a good way to break into the business. I was happy to do that,” says Mr. Derrickson, who early on frightened his childhood pals by building his own haunted house.

For Mr. Derrickson, that meant writing and directing the straight-to-video “Hellraiser: Inferno” and the horror sequel “Urban Legends: Final Cut,” both released in 2000.

By contrast, “Emily Rose,” his first major studio release, contains images that are more unsettling than horrific; intertwining claims of demonic possession with religion and a complex legal system.

“I’ve never seen a courtroom horror film,” Mr. Derrickson says.

“Emily Rose,” he admits, will no doubt evoke a chill or two. But the film also takes the religious views of its characters seriously. It’s an approach Mr. Derrickson hopes other directors will emulate.

“It’s profoundly important to people in this country, not just the religious right,” he says of future films where faith and facts co-exist. “I hope filmmakers from various perspectives [cover it] … it’s fertile ground for good drama.”

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