Every since The Exorcist came storming into theaters with its pea soup vomit and 360 degree head turns a blazing the slightest use of the word "exorcist" or "exorcism" always conjures up images of Linda Blair tied to a bed screaming at Father Merrin to f**k Father Karras. Over thirty years after that monumental film we get The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a film that features yet another possessed girl and another trouble priest, though this time the film goes about telling the story in a vastly different way as compared to The Exorcist.
The film opens with the police coming to a rural farm house to investigate the death of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). When they arrive they find Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) and begin asking him question pertaining to her death, which appears to be ghastly, painful, and inhumane. As one thing leads to another Father Moore is arrested and put on trial for the death of Emily Rose through neglect and mis information (which is one of the plot holes I found in the film- why weren't the parents on trial with him I have no idea). Moore ends up with a hot shot defender Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) who is a little too good at her job and has to carry the weight of keeping evil men out of jail on her shoulders. The subsequent trial is less about saving Father Moore but more about telling Emily's story and letting people know what she did and how there is evil in the world.
The first comparison is going to be with The Exorcist and it obviously is not as good as that film. That is the standard bearer and will probably never be topped in it's sheer terror and creepy feel it holds throughout. It's really not fair to compare the two when you get to the meat of the comparison. The Exorcist is a pure horror film. Emily Rose feels more like a John Grisham novel with a way out there premise. It's more of a courtroom drama than a horror film and isn't really as scary or gory as you may be led to believe. It's more about suspense. It keeps you interested, ready for that cat to jump through the window or the ironing board to fall from the closet. It never does, but you're ready for it. The fact there aren't that many scares keeps you on the edge waiting for them to show up because we all know how horror movies work.
The acting of the main three cast members is superb with Wilkinson, Linney, and Carpenter falling into the respective roles. Campbell Scott plays the prosecutor and I just don't buy his performance. They picked him for a reason, yet he seems to be a terrible prosecutor who should probably be defending traffic court instead of a high profile case such as this one. Director Scott Derrickson is adequate at directing the film, though he strangely gets better when he's working in the dark. Like I said, he gets you to feel the scare that you just know is around the corner.
Of course The Exorcism of Emily Rose is going to get blasted by the tons of horror fans pulled in by the title and not getting the product they thought they were getting into. Instead of a blood fest it is actually a suspense film that keeps you entertained as long as you avoid the plot holes throughout. It's above average for the genres it represents but nothing to spectacular beyond that.