I missed seeing this film in theaters, something for which I am fairly pleased. It is so terrifying just on your home TV, I can hardly imagine it on a screen twenty feet tall. I regard it as one of the better horror films of the ’00 decade, scary and intense without being gory, and solidly done in every category.
Things I liked about it:
1) The directing, cinematography, script, and performances. They are all pitch-perfect for the film. Tom Wilkinson as the erstwhile priest is simply fantastic. The possession and exorcism scenes that take place in flashback work together with the mounting tension of the courtroom drama, each building satisfactorily upon the last.
2) The exorcism scene. The scene we all watched it for. Oh. My. God. I’ve seen the film four or five times since it came out and this scene still scares the hell out of me. Watching it this week, I found myself having difficulty breathing, clutching my head, and shaking as I watched it. Didn’t really expect that, especially having seen it a few times and knowing what happens. That’s a compliment for any scary film. Just everything works together perfectly, the scene ratcheting up the terror inch by excruciating inch.
3) The theology of possession and demonology is spot-on to real-world accounts. The sense of being held down, the witching hour, the smell of burning sulfur, all match with traditional criteria for demonic possession.
Things I didn’t like:
1) Sometimes I wonder at the case the defense constructed in favor of Father Moore. He’s accused of negligent homicide of the girl (Emily Rose), and yet they don’t put the family on the stand to corroborate his insistence that she keep eating, that her wounds were self-inflicted, etc. Or the boyfriend. The family could have testified to the fact that Emily was not having pyscho-epileptic episodes, which is what the prosecutor claimed. Additionally, since the family and Emily gave consent to the exorcism and to Father Moore’s suggestions, they were well within their religious freedom to voluntarily disregard recommended medical treatment in favor of the spiritual solution they all believed was the only way to help her.
2) The film ventures into the “we just don’t know” territory at the end, pretending to be neutral on the question of the spiritual realm. What is ignored is the prejudicial bias of the law against spiritual explanations for events. It assumed demons could not exist, and therefore Father Moore and the family were misguided, if quaint, folks. Before this point, it has essentially been strongly in favor of the reality of possession (because without that assumption, it wouldn’t have been a horror movie), and then tries to flip back into safe “neutral” territory at the end so as to not be accused of advocating for the supernatural or Christianity in particular.