Before anything at all happens in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the new film from director Scott Derrickson, eight ominous words appear on screen:
This film is based on a true story.
It seems like an important thing for us to be aware of right off the bat, because very little in the film to follow resembles any kind of true life, at least as most of us know it.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is ostensibly based on the story of Anneliese Michel, a German college student who believed she was possessed by multiple demons, including Lucifer, Nero, Judas Iscariot, and Adolf Hitler. In 1975, several years after Michel had started suffering from extreme seizures and exhibiting generally unexplained behavior (compulsions to self-mutilate and publicly urinate; the ability to speak languages Michel had never learned), the Catholic church gave her priest permission to perform an exorcism. Various traditional Church rituals were performed at least once a week for ten months, until, in July of 1976, Michel died of starvation (she had claimed for months that the demons would not allow her to eat). Anneliese’s parents, and the priest who officiated Michel’s exorcism, were brought to trial on charges of manslaughter, and sentenced to six months in prison. Michel's grave has since become an ad-hoc holy site for devout believers, even though the Church later issued a statement denying that Michel had ever been possessed.