A young woman, Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), was either mentally ill & suffering from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, or possessed by the devil. Deciding it was the latter, she & her parents agree to treat her condition with a Catholic exorcism, during which she dies. The priest (Tom Wilkinson) is pretty much abandoned to the law by an embarrassed Catholic hierarchy, & it's up to attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) to put Faith on trial to convince a jury that the priest's choice of non-medical treatment does not mean he is culpable in her death.
A combination of a courtroom drama & The Exorcist (1974), the supernatural is never quite clear-cut though Emily's madness or possession certainly is ultra-creepy. The priest's attorney has to instill reasonable doubt with the jury, that exorcism was a reasonable choice of treatment; the prosecutor need only explain what Psychosis & Temporal Lobe Epilepsy means.
The courtroom stuff dominates & is a mite dull unless a viewer is inherently intrigued by Faith itself on trial. The flashbacks to what happened are much more involving but because it never ceases to be ambiguous it never quite works as a horror film.
It's based on the true story of an actual young Bavarian woman who after a few years of being possessed, purportedly, by two spirits including the demonic ghost of Hitler, was indeed accidentally killed during an ill-considered exorcism in 1976. It is very probable that the popularity of The Exorcist & the wave of hysteria it engendered among the faithful helped perpetuate the absurd notion that a woman of twenty suffering from advanced bulemic starvation & pneumonia should be given into the charge of a priest instead of a hospital.
Faith being too often the opiate of the dumbasses, even after the Catholic Church itself declared Anneliese Michel never to have been demon-possessed, those who believe she was too possessed continued to believe it, & to hell with the Pope's opinion.
In real life the parents as well as the priest were put on trial, & despite that the film is a fictionalized version, there seems to have been a desire on everyone's part to do this thing tastefully. It is perhaps a mite too tasteful to be fully entertaining, & the script's inability to take a stand makes it wishywashy. The bulemia & pneumonia of the actual case is not mentioned in the ficitonal version so that the supernatural is a door left at least a little more open than in the historical reality.
The film wants to leave it totally up to the viewer to decide if the exorcist attempted the right thing though the devil won, or whether the young woman should've been taken to the emergency room of the nearest hospital. By refusing to be definitely supernatural fiction, but also refusing to show clearly that her death was unnecessary & the direct result of misguided belief, it has no emotional impact at either end of that scale.
The story is moved to present day America (really British Columbia -- why do Canadian filmmakers insist on pretending everyone's from the United States?) because who cares about Bavarians. It's well acted & beautifully photographed. But the trailer was frankly way better than the movie, as the trailer implied a powerful supernatural story, not a wishywashy courtroom drama.
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