Somehow the movie really never takes off into the riveting fascination we expect in the opening scenes. Maybe it cannot; maybe it is too faithful to the issues it raises to exploit them. A movie like "The Exorcist" is a better film because it's a more limited one, which accepts demons and exorcists lock, stock and barrel, as its starting point. Certainly they're good showbiz. A film that keeps an open mind must necessarily lack a slam-dunk conclusion. In the end Emily Rose's story does get told, although no one can agree about what it means.
Read the complete article The Exorcism of Emily Rose (PG-13) from rogerebert.com.
The above is how Roger Ebert ended his review of the movie about Emily Rose, the poor college girl who was either possessed or nuts and her priest who was either prevented from saving her due to drugs or didn't save her because he took her off the drugs. Or something.
Aside from plot details, in the little except above, Ebert compares the movie to the ultimate of the genre, The Exorcist. Ebert claims that the former keeps an open mind, even up to the end, while the later accepts demons as a given. I would have to disagree to some extent. The Exorcist as a novel and even as a film was specifically up to a certain point supposed to be ambiguous. Yes, as members of the audience, we probably figured it out that Regan was possessed, but the characters, especially Father Karras, operated pretty much up to the climax as if it were just some kind of manifestation of a psychosis. But I'm quibbling with Ebert.
In any case, in a broader discussion, one wonders where prosecuting a priest for the rite of exorcism falls under freedom of religion. As one reviewer I've read noted, the biggest suspension of disbelief for The Exorcism of Emily Rose is getting a grand jury to indict the priest in the first place.
The church is curiously ambivalent about exorcism. It believes that the devil and his agents can be active in the world, it has a rite of exorcism, and it has exorcists. On the other hand, it is reluctant to certify possessions and authorize exorcisms, and it avoids publicity on the issue. It's like those supporters of Intelligent Design who privately believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis, but publicly distance themselves from it because that would undermine their plausibility in the wider world.
Ebert claims that the Church is ambivalent. The conventional wisdom of the post-Vatican II Church would agree. However, such wisdom is according to many sources outdated. I challenge any of you to call your local diocese and ask them who is the appointed exorcist and see what kind of a response you get. I'm willing to bet that you will get more than just a disclaimer and ambivalence.