Disappointingly, the film also resorts to deafening sound effects to elicit the jump-out-of-your-seat moments it assumes today’s audiences demand. Too bad the filmmakers, who do an otherwise nice job of building atmospheric suspense without transgressing the boundaries of the film’s PG-13 rating, didn’t stop short of this impulse, as no loud noise or slamming door can match the film’s most effective visual scare: an image of a contorted Emily on her dorm-room floor.

Yet there’s much to compensate for these drawbacks. In telling the story of Emily Rose – very loosely based on a real-life case – the movie largely vindicates both the title character, who believed she was indeed possessed, and Father Moore, who tried to exorcise Emily’s demons. Carpenter pulls off an eerie transformation from bright-eyed, college-bound student to prisoner of forces beyond her control, while Wilkinson offers the unwavering conviction and spiritual insight needed to convince Bruner of his genuineness.

To the film’s credit, although “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” stacks the deck against agnosticism, the ultimate outcome of the case leaves open the possibility that the prosecution may have been justified. Still, the harrowing audio tapes of the exorcism reveal extraordinary forces that demanded aggressive treatment, whether spiritual or physical, and these, combined with the film’s earlier visual depictions of Emily’s late-night battles with forces beyond her control, leave little doubt that her physical frame could withstand only so much violence.

One final note of caution. While the film points to a supernatural realm, and to God, it provides some flimsy testimony to buttress the more effective visual depictions of supernatural forces at work. At one point, Father Moore gives voice to a belief in “the witching hour” – when evil forces supposedly are most potent – and he cites a view of Halloween with which some Christians may take issue. Perhaps most controversial will be the film’s overt Catholicism. While the story is ultimately about the existence of God, it is told most passionately through Emily’s own direct revelation of spiritual truth – and to accept her revelation is to accept certain beliefs exclusive to Catholic theology. Protestants should consider themselves warned, even though any Christian in search of a thoughtful, yet accessible, film likely will find rewards here.

AUDIENCE:  Older teens and up

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Defendant’s lawyer visits a bar. Emily takes prescription drugs for possible epilepsy.
  • Language/Profanity:  Prosecutor says he needs a Christian lawyer who “knows this s---” to take on the case. A lawyer is told she’s “screwed [the case] up beyond repair”; demonic possession is labeled an “archaic and irrational superstition.”
  • Sex/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence:  Disturbing scenes and images of Emily experiencing what appear to be demonic attacks, although the prosecution argues these may have been epileptic in nature. Emily sees human faces melt or change into demonic form. Emily’s body is contorted into an unnatural position. Apparent demons speak through Emily. A cross on Emily’s wall falls upside down during an attempted exorcism. A grisly photo of Emily’s corpse, initially seen only in fleeting glimpses during the court scenes, is more fully revealed toward the end of the film. Horrific sounds emanate from a taped recording of Emily’s attempted exorcism.