Those interested in demonic possession may find the analytical stylings of The Exorcism of Emily Rose fairly engaging.
Of course, this subtle legal potboiler's attraction to moviegoers is how well it conveys the horror around the suffering and death of a young woman in the grip of evil. It must be said that Scott Derrickson's film doesn't try to emulate The Exorcist, and his methods involving much flashbacks becomes more compelling in the psychology of the controversial subject matter.
Inspired by the true story of one Annelise Michel of Germany back in 1986, the film underlines the fact that the Catholic Church supports a decision to have priests cast out demons from people. New Testament readers know that Jesus expressed the importance of expelling Satan to his disciples.
Derrickson could have called his film "An Exorcist's Story" as Emily Rose, as played with much verve by Jennifer Carpenter, really isn't front and center like Linda Blair in the chilling William Friedkin masterwork.
Emily is a 19-year-old devout Catholic whose body probably was invaded because of her saintly nature. The sensitive college student cannot cope with the turmoil and returns home for medical treatment for psychotic epilepsy. When that doesn't work her parents request a local parish priest, Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) whose diocese allows him to begin on the the optimal night for such an event, Halloween.
The act leaves Emily dead and her body in a horrific state, and the doctor on the scene can't rule the death of natural causes. Thus, with Father Moore charged with negligent manslaughter, the diocese gets sharp defense attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney, remembered from her legal work in "Primal Fear") whose boss (Colm Feore) wants the priest to settle on a deal. But, the reluctant agnostic woman will have her hands full with the determined priest who wants to profess Emily's story. Moore admonishes Erin about the effects of getting deeply involved in the case.
The unhurried proceedings have the prosecution in the hands of a Sunday school teacher and church choir member (Campbell Scott of Saint Ralph). Audience members into this legalese and not drifting off in their seats will probably favor one side as the recounting of Emily's pain has her seeing demons in the souls of people. In one case, a person's eyes turn black and the young woman endures much from the forces who won't let her eat.
Bruner has to try to win over a jury with this dark notion, and personally gets worked over by the elements, notably at 3 am. An anthropologist with much knowledge in primitive culture possession (Shoreh Agdashloo) is a witness for the defense, but the prosecution has the upper hand for a while until Bruner learns of the doctor being at the exorcism, and shakily admits to want to testify.
It it clear that much effort has gone into bringing truth into the story which primarily takes place in the courtroom. Inquiring minds might not get why Emily had to pay the ultimate price with such a fast decline and didn't act viciously towards her loved ones.
The established actors are convincing throughout even if Scott comes across as a bit prissy and Linney appears more glamorous in her bedroom than in the courtroom. Wilkinson is sincerely understated and effectively is the prism to the physicality of the ordeal. And if the "scary" scenes aren't what one hopes for, then the final arguments have a way to make you think about the possibilities of something quite haunting.