Laura Linney (The Truman Show)
Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins)
Campbell Scott (The Amazing Spider-Man)
Jennifer Carpenter (Limitless TV)
Colm Feore (Gotham)
Kenneth Welsh (The Aviator)
JR Bourne (Stargate SG.1)
Henry Czerny (Revenge)
Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica)
Shohreh Aghdashloo (Star Trek: Beyond)
Julian Christopher (Elysium)
Lorena Gale (Battlestar Galactica)
Chelah Horsdal (The Man In The High Castle)
A 19-year-old girl named Emily Rose dies, attributed to self-inflicted wounds and malnutrition. After news of it spreads across town, a Catholic priest named Father Richard Moore is arrested and sent to court. The archdiocese wishes for Father Moore to plead guilty, in order for publicity of the incident to be minimized. A lawyer named Erin Bruner is provided to Father Moore to negotiate a plea deal, but Father Moore insists on pleading not guilty. Bruner takes the case, believing it will elevate her to senior partner at her law firm. Father Moore agrees to let her defend him only if he is allowed to tell Emily’s story.
The trial begins with the calling of several medical experts by the prosecutor Ethan Thomas, and Judge Brewster presiding. One expert testifies that Emily was suffering from both epilepsy and psychosis. The defense contests that she may have actually been possessed but Bruner explains that Emily was suffering from something that neither medicine nor psychology could explain, and that Father Moore as well as her family realized this and tried to help in another way.
Several flashbacks reveal the story leading up to the exorcism. Emily gets a scholarship to a university to study for a bachelor’s degree in education. After days pass, strange events occur. In her dorm room one night, at 3:00 AM, Emily smells a strange burning smell from the hallway. Attempting to investigate it, she sees a door open and shut itself several times. She then sees a writing material jar move by itself. Emily sees her bed covers roll themselves down, and a great weight pins her in bed along with a force which also proceeds to choke her and seemingly to possess her momentarily. Through these episodes Emily wonders if they are true or just a hallucination. She suffers more of these visions such as people’s faces demonically distorting, and being unable to eat. She is hospitalized, and diagnosed with epilepsy. Anti-seizure medications and treatment fail to cure her.
A classmate named Jason brings her back home to her family upon her father’s request after finding her contorted and catatonic. He as well as Emily’s family become convinced she is not epileptic or mentally ill but is possessed by demons. Days follow where Emily attempting to fight back against the demons tries to sustain nourishment from eating bugs but to no avail. While possessed she starts to damage the house, and cause mutilations to herself. The visions continue, as do her severe bodily contortions. They ask for Father Moore to perform an exorcism, and the Church agrees. The prosecution counters that all this could be explained by a combination of epilepsy (the contortions) and psychosis (the visions).
Meanwhile, Bruner begins to experience strange occurrences in her apartment at 3:00 AM, including strange smells and sounds. Father Moore warns her that she may be targeted by demons for possibly exposing them. He also explains that 3:00 AM is the “witching hour” which evil spirits use to mock the Holy Trinity, being the opposite of 3:00 PM, the traditional hour of Christ’s death. Moore then reveals that after the bishop gives him permission to do the exorcism, he also experiences the same strange occurrence on the night before the exorcism. Awakening to the scent of burning material, Moore witnesses religious imagery in the rectory bleeding and then encounters a black cloaked and hooded figure walking to the church, which he says is a manifestation of the demon possessing Emily.
Seeing that the prosecution is putting up a seemingly solid medical case, Bruner decides to try to show that Emily may have actually been possessed. She calls in an anthropologist, Dr. Sadira Adani, to testify about various cultures’ beliefs about spiritual possession. Dr. Graham Cartwright, a medical doctor present during the exorcism, reveals an audio tape made during the rite. The priest is then called to the stand to testify. The tape is played and the movie then flashes back to the exorcism. It is performed on Halloween night because Father Moore believes it might be easier to draw out the demons on that night. Father Moore, Jason, and her father gather in Emily’s bedroom where she is tied to a bed while her family prays in the living room.As Father Moore begins the rite and sprinkles holy water while reading various words from the Rituale Romanum, Emily begins speaking in Latin, German, Ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. The family cats run around the room, agitated by demonic presence and attack everyone. Emily breaks her ties, jumps out the window, and into the barn, with everyone following except for Emily’s family, who remain and pray. Inside the barn, they are subjected to more supernatural phenomena such as unnatural gusts of wind and demonic screams and voices. The demon inside Emily refuses to name itself after repeated demands from the Father Moore but finally reveals contemptuously that there are not one but six demons. With dual voices from Emily, they identify themselves in dramatic fashion as the demons that possessed Cain, Nero, Judas Iscariot, a member of the Legion, Belial, and Lucifer, each speaking with its own language.
The film returns to the court room. The priest says that Emily refused another exorcism but also refused to take her anti-psychotic medication, having accepted her fate. She died a few weeks later. The prosecutor contends that her speaking in tongues can be explained by her having gone through Catholic Catechism, in which she could have learned the ancient languages, and that she had studied German in high school. The priest admits that it might be possible that she could have learned these languages in school. Bruner then calls Dr. Cartwright as a witness, but he does not show. She walks outside and sees him on the street. Cartwright says he can no longer testify, but he does believe in demons. Before he can explain, he is killed by a passing car. Later that night Bruner’s chief attorney threatens her with termination if she recalls the priest to the stand when he reveals that he heard of what happened.
Bruner calls the priest back to the stand the next day. Father Moore reads a letter that Emily wrote for him the day before her death. The letter describes another vision she had on the morning after the exorcism. She walks out of the house and sees the Virgin Mary, who tells her that although the demons will not leave her, she can leave her body and end her suffering. The apparition reveals that if she returns to her body, she will help to prove to the world that God and the Devil are real. After Emily chooses to return, she then receives stigmata, which Moore believes is a sign of God’s love for her. The letter concludes with a statement saying “People say that God is dead, but how can they think that if I show them the Devil?”, but the prosecution counters that she could have received the stigmata wounds from a barbed wire fence on her property.
When Judge Brewster pronounces Father Moore as guilty, the jury recommends a sentence of time served, to which she agrees. Bruner is offered a partnership at her firm for her success, but she declines and resigns. She goes with Father Moore to Emily’s grave, where he has put a quote (which she recited to him the day before she died) from the second chapter twelfth verse of Philippians on her grave: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Father Moore goes on to live in seclusion stating he would not appeal as God will be the only one to judge him in the end.Admirably, the tone is not one of full on shocks and scares – there is a neutrality which gives you space to make your own mind up, and yet allow you to see events as the Father Moore and Emily saw them. It’s this intelligence towards the subject which sets this apart from most other recent horror movies and makes this worth watching.