No rosy ending: Whatever possessed her?
The financial success of The Passion of the Christ has made some Hollywood studios see the light. They're getting religion, even if they don't exactly "get" religion.
That explains why the protagonist of The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a lawyer, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), who professes to be agnostic. The irony is that she's defending a priest, Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), while the lead prosecutor (Campbell Scott), "a man of faith," takes a secular stance.
This courtroom drama, which is like the second half-hour of a lesser episode of Law & Order, is spiced up with flashbacks showing what happened to 19-year-old Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) that led to Father Moore being charged with negligent homicide in her death.
It's a souped-up version of The Exorcist employing 21st-century technology to heighten the scares, and– except for the sometimes overblown soundtrack– it manages to stay on the tasteful end of the cheese spectrum. It also remains in PG-13 territory, with no sex, nudity, or bad language, and very little violence, just a lot of intensity.
Like Father Moore, The Exorcism of Emily Rose falls victim to its own good intentions, using commercial elements to lure the masses (in case the faithful don't respond to its religious content), but not going far enough in either direction for fear of alienating one side or the other.
As Emily's mother points out to anyone who will listen, the girl was fine until she left their rural community to go to college. What happened to her there is described by doctors as epileptic seizures triggering psychotic episodes. To the church, it appeared to be demonic possession, and the archbishop authorized Father Moore to perform an exorcism. Emily Rose died a short time later.
Erin is a "rising star" in the legal profession who takes the case with the promise of being made a senior partner in her firm if she wins. The Church, trying to avoid embarrassment, wants to keep Father Moore from testifying. He is equally insistent on "telling Emily Rose's story." (He could get it out to the media without taking the stand, but a press release isn't good cinema.)
A string of medical witnesses make such a good case for the prosecution that Erin is forced to present a positive case for possession. She finds a good witness in an anthropologist (the marvelous Shohreh Aghdashloo in an unfortunate example of the kind of minor role Hollywood can find for a woman of her age and ethnicity) who "approaches possession from a scientific standpoint."
Also taking the stand is Emily's college boyfriend, Jason (Joshua Close), who stood by her until the end.
Judge Mary Beth Hurt makes a mistake that amazingly got through to the final cut. About to pronounce sentence she says, "You have heard the sentence...," when she means, "You have heard the verdict..."
It's hard to find serious fault with any element of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but because it plays it safe, it's hard to get excited about it either.