The film follows the trial of Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), charged with causing the death of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) upon whom he performed an exorcism. Defending him is successful lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), who initially takes the case to further her own career. However, Bruner soon begins to pay more attention to Father Moore's insistence that dark forces surround the trial.
Essentially, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is a relative success. The courtroom scenes are well made, if at times unremarkable and occasionally lacking in production values. The horror scenes, showing through flashbacks the events leading up to the exorcism, are again fairly effective but rarely anything more than that. A couple of scenes do stand out however: the sequence in which the demon supposedly first enters Emily's body is particularly uncomfortable, and the exorcism scene itself provides a good few chills. Other sections feel less successful, however; the dispatching of a key witness in the trial feels hackneyed both in terms of plotting and execution.
Wilkinson is reliably strong, making Father Moore feel sympathetic and honest, whilst also maintaining a slight sense that he may not be all there. Linney too does well in the lead, although she feels a lot more at home in the courtroom than being spooked by things that go bump in the night. Carpenter also deserves praise for making Emily either believably possessed or believable as someone who believes herself to be possessed, depending on your take on the film.
As a different spin on exorcism movies, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose must be commended for its comparative success. It provides relatively compelling courtroom drama, complete with a host of interesting witnesses and a suitably slimy prosecutor played ably by Campbell Scott, alongside a fairly effective horror story. It never threatens to be anything more than pretty good, but it's still a worthwhile watch, and an enjoyable and undeniably original entry into the exorcism subgenre.