The Rite Reviews
I'm as guilty as the next guy; having a good college background in theological matters I enjoy the philosophical arguments over the nature of good and evil.
Having read Wm. Blatty's riveting novel long before Linda Blair started spewing pea soup, this psychological brand of horror has always held an interest for me, especially when done right - eschewing shock value for a more cerebral delving into the nature of evil. This is why the first Exorcist film has stood the test of time, while the sequels, going for shock and awe, were so easily forgettable.
In the case of The Rite, you begin with an earnest enough back-story - Michael, the son of a mortuary owner (Colin O'Donoghue) wants to escape the family business, discovers that he can get a free pass to higher learning if he goes to a Catholic College - under the pretext of wanting to become a priest.
Of course Michael is an unbeliever, so after acing all his classes he gives notice that he will not be pursuing a life in the clergy. A series of incidents then follow, and Michael is coerced into traveling to Rome as the Vatican is secretly hunting for more exorcists. Not very believable, but, while things are a bit too pat and slickly presented, I suppose that since the very nature of the film's theme is indeed questionable, you could give this setup a pass.
The head of the Exorcism classes is a friend of Michael's college dean, so he takes a special interest in the lad, sending him to Brother Lucas, in yet another odd role for Anthony Hopkins. I'm going to break from the story here into a little side trip concerning Sir Hopkins. I've been a fan ever since he first hit the screen, as the eldest son Henry in The Lion In Winter. Through many a film including the near perfect Howard's End, he seemed to embody his craft, sinking into a role completely. And then came Hannibal Lector, who some say is the greatest villain portrayal on film. Indeed, Hopkins was the perfect choice to portray Harris's villain - cerebral and yet with a slightly out of whack sensibility that could be construed as the embodiment of evil.
It was the perfect role for a true thespian, giving Hopkins the opportunity to grandstand without seeming to do so. Unfortunately, he's been doing riffs on the same role ever since, and The Rite is no exception. His Brother Lucas is quirky to a fault - serious one moment and then throwing off bon-mots the next. I assume that Hopkins has made the choice to play "quirky", and to be certain he does it well, but here it does the film a bit of a disservice, as you're swayed into watching a character study, when the film should be more about Michael and his doubts and, perhaps, faith.
I will say that the film is beautifully filmed and there is enough of a philosophical question at the heart of the film to hold your interest, though the questions are nailed home (and if you've seen the film, excuse the pun), instead of played out through a more concise story - it's almost as if, in the attempt at realism, where everything must have an explanation, the film loses credibility - I suppose some things one must take on faith - as the film points out when Michael views Hopkins performing an exorcism on a pregnant girl and exclaims "is that all there is?" To which Hopkins replies "what, you were expecting spinning heads and pea soup?" Ah no, but this is a perfect example of a serious film that makes too many a wrong step (Hopkins included), and ends up playing false for all its attempts at realism.
I will also point out that there is a huge, gapping continuity error when Michael enters Rome. There's a nice travel log segment, with Michael in a cab seeing the sights as he careens towards the Vatican. Unfortunately, they get things out of order, going from the Coliseum to Castle St. Angelo (which is right next to the Vatican), and then somehow a scene of the baths of Calicalla gets shoehorned in, even though the baths are back on the other side of the Coliseum. I hate it when there's sloppy editing like that! Then, to make matters worse, there's the requisite shot of the front of St. Peter's, making it appear that Michael is going to enter the Vatican through the church's front door - ah no, a visiting priest would enter around the corner, by the residences (even if you ARE named after the arch-angel).
Just before the credits role you get a totally bogus, reality TV narrative - one of those "and this is what they're doing now" type things - which is absurd in a work of fiction and shows that this film played it just too slick - surely not an Emily Rose or The Exorcist. That this film is "based" on actual events (which is a polite way of saying "hey, we made up 99% of this stuff, but somewhere, even we don't know where, there just might be a scene that actually happened"), just makes the whole mess seem even more absurd.
Director: Mikael Håfström
Summary: Despite his conviction that demonic possession is just so much supersitious mumbo jumbo, Catholic priest-in-training Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) journeys to Rome to attend a special exorcism school being taught at the Vatican. Before long, true-believer Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) introduces the young cleric to the devil's power firsthand. Director Mikael Håfström helms this graphic supernatural thriller inspired by a true story.
My Thoughts: "Yes the theme of the story has been made countless times. The difference with this film is that it was well made. Also it doesn't hurt to have Mr. Hopkins playing in it as well. Anthony Hopkins is one of those actor's who you adore in films and one who can completely creep you out in a film. In this one he manages to do both. I think I jumped about four times. The film is creepy and suppose to be based on true events. Whether you believe in the things that are happening in this film is up to you. I ended up liking it for the simple fact that it creeped me out, made me jump, and the story was interesting. Not all films based on exorcisms can hold my attention cause they are made so badly. But his one is worth giving a look at."
An American seminary student travels to Italy to take an exorcism course.
Hollywood hasn't made an exemplary movie about exorcism since the scary 1973 theological thriller "The Exorcist" based on William Peter Blatty's bestselling novel. Forget about all those lackluster "Exorcist" sequels that failed to recapture the gruesome glory of Oscar-winning director William Friedkin's film. None generated more than a mild case of goose bumps. Forget about the others, too, that featured the noun 'exorcism' in their titles. Recent efforts like "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and "The Last Exorcism" qualified at best as mediocre. They lacked the spinning heads, the flying pea-green soup vomit, the hair-raising demonic imagery, and the rampant profanity. Indeed, "The Exorcist" was a ghoulish exercise in extreme horror designed not only to frighten the living daylights out of audiences but also to make them soil their underwear. As much as good versus evil served as the theme of "The Exorcist," nobody really cared about the moral consequences. Audiences appeared by the thousands just to scream at what constituted the scariest horror movie in history. "Derailed" director Mikael Håfström, who also helmed "1408," and "Queen of the Damned" scenarist Michael Petroni adapted Matt Baglio's 2009 book "The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist." Baglio is a real-life journalist. He attended a Vatican sponsored seminar about exorcism in 2005, and Baglio's book followed an American Catholic priest from California, Father Gary Thomas, who came to learn about being an exorcist. Most of the action is strictly formulaic, but Oscar-winning actor Anthony Hopkins makes it worth watching. Although Hafstrom knows how to scare the shenanigans out of audiences, he focuses more on the question of good versus evil rather than the horror. "The Rite" not only takes itself seriously but it is committed to the belief that good and evil are part of mankind's existence. In other words, Håfström has helmed a horror chiller that puts its reverence for the Catholic Church ahead of its popcorn agenda. Anthony Hopkins is terrific as a Jesuit priest/physician who has spent a life-time contending with demonic forces.
The main concern of the film isn't horror, but faith. Specifically, it's all about one Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) trying to reconnect with his beliefs. Having studied to become a priest in an attempt to get away from the family business (his father, played by Rutger Hauer, is a mortician), he finds himself questioning that decision. The solution, according to Father Matthew (Toby Jones), is to attend an exorcism course in Rome (Pope John Paul II supposedly suggested every diocese should need an exorcist, and was said to have performed the rite personally in his younger years). The teacher, Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds), recommends that Michael spend some time with a Welsh priest, Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), known among his peers for his unorthodox methods. And that's when things start getting interesting...
For about an hour, The Rite is every bit as serious about its subject matter as The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Sure, there's an ominous feel all the way through, with clever camera work, cinematography, editing and music, but the film really appears to be more about mood and thematic depth than jump-scares (although that area is covered with a predictable scene involving cats) and gross-out. The script even appears to be sending up audience expectations with a neat quip about The Exorcist, which simultaneously acknowledges the latter as an unreachable milestone.
However, at some point Hafström is expected to deliver the goods, if only for box office reasons, therefore ditching the attention to character that made Evil his masterwork and choosing to go for "proper" horror instead. Perhaps it was inevitable, as the presence of genre veterans Hopkins and Hauer (shamefully never in the same scene) seems to indicate, but that doesn't mean there isn't a correct way to do it. Toned-down, effective exorcism scenes fall under the appropriate category; an all-stops-pulled dream sequence that is essentially five minutes of pure WTF writing, is just plain wrong, and paves the way for a climax that, for all its entertainment value, is depressingly predictable.
Thank the silver screen gods, then, for Hopkins. The cast does an overall good job (although Alice Braga is stuck with a pointless role), but it's the former Hannibal Lecter who really carries the picture, knowing exactly when to unleash his OTT instincts and when to restrain himself, giving a performance so riotous and fun to watch it sort of makes up for the by-numbers third act. Whether he's taunting a demon in Italian or making fun of his Welsh roots (surely the movie's most ridiculously iconic moment), he's a pure joy to behold, and the main reason why The Rite doesn't fall apart in the conflict between serious filmmaking and pandering to audience tastes. Turns out it isn't really about faith at all - it's about the protagonist proving, once again, how ace he can be.
If listening to Hopkins say things like "slut" and "kissy-lips" sounds frightening to you, then by all means, piss your ten bucks away. Otherwise, gird yourself for a by-the-numbers January horror flick, soullessly ground out by the studios for a quick buck during dry season.