Here's my advice for an exorcism movie trying to make its way in the world: be 1973's The Exorcist or forget about it and go home. There just isn't anything else to bring to the table. The only new idea they thought to bring to the exorcism scene in this movie was "what if she... runs out to the barn for part of it!?!" And run she does, after jumping through a second floor window, just like in... The... never mind.
Who knows? Perhaps I will be proven wrong at some point, but besides the Big E I've never seen a possession story that could hold my interest, at least whenever the goal is to rid the possessee of the foul intruder. Evil Dead style possession is more like demonically-based zombification and is therefore awesome.
I'd pretty much written off this movie as a don't-bother, but then I watched Dexter and became a fan of Jennifer Carpenter and had to check it out. You know those three horror movies in your Netflix queue that you mean to screen for the 'thon but you keep not getting around to, and they spend the off months buried under a bunch of other genres? This one's been in mine for a couple of years now. In terms of Jennifer Carpenter being amazing as a crazy possessed woman, this totally pays off. In all other ways I call it a massive dud that actually pissed me off more the more time I had to think about it.
The problem with practically every single Faith vs. Facts story is that Faith always has to win because it's the more narratively compelling option. Emily Rose's arena is the courtroom, the freedom at stake is that of the priest who performed Emily's unsuccessful exorcism and who is held responsible for her death. There follows a lot of hoo-ha that clumsily head-bumps these Big Issues together like a four-year-old making Ken and Barbie kiss. It's good actors and good production values and you don't notice right away that the script is bunk, but soon you do notice and it's bunkity bunk.
Because of COURSE agnostic defense attorney Laura Linney has her sense of the world tested by a series of things she just can't explain. (And here's where religious horror movies can be great -- what could be scarier than God actually existing, right?) So what are these unexplainable things? She wakes up at 3 am a couple of times and smells something burning -- but there's nothing burning. The door to her apartment is open. I don't mean it opens, I mean it's already open and she notices and shuts it. Also she finds a locket with her initials in it.
In all fairness I should mention the other strange phenomena during the trial. The priest is plagued nightly (at 3 am, wooooo) by a figure in a hooded cape, or maybe a burka... heck, it might just be a guy in a blanket, he's just a silhouette and he's way over there. One guy sees something scary (that the viewer doesn't see) and backs into traffic (oh what would you do without traffic, Forces of Darkness?)
That's pretty much it. Super boring stuff that totally sqanders any chance at scary, and they keep it that way on purpose to illustrate some high-falutin' Unknowability. "Was it demons or was she crazy... only YOU can decide." It's a style I hate. If a movie doesn't frame an issue this large with some intelligence, banging on the Infinite Mystery drum is just lazy. In the end the priest reads a letter from Emily about how the Virgin Mary told her that her sacrifice would be meaningful because people would hear about it and believe in God more. The characters give their all so that story can get out and oh gosh how great, but I just saw a sad victim of the universe's most vicious marketing department.
The most interesting part of The Exorcism of Emily Rose is Emily's point of view as her brain totally turns on her; going crazy would indeed be terrifying. Everything else waffles between annoyingly wishy washy and preachy. Not recommended.
On a side note, I'm happy to report that I did screen a Faith vs. Facts movie in which Faith takes it on the chin, and that's It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. From beginning to end, Linus never loses faith in the Great Pumpkin, and he gets completely screwed over. He misses Halloween, he's derided by his friends and family, he loses the girl, he gets faked out by a dog AND he's abandoned by his god, left shivering alone in the dirt during the first cold hours of November. The next day you get the cognative dissonance; Linus goes off about how great next year will be while Charlie Brown just sags against the brick wall. And you can take it either way, you can bask in the Linus's innocent belief or observe Chuck's face and know that innocent belief can be a big pain in the ass for everyone who's around it.