Let me begin by saying I am not a fan of the possession subgenre of horror films. I’ll gladly sit through zombies, vampires, slashers and flesh eating fish before I willingly submit to a film where the devil made them do it. Naturally I was very apprehensive about seeing the latest in head-spinning, bone-cracking exorcism movies, The Rite, opening today. But it turns out if I had to see one “demon invading my personal space” flick this year; The Rite was a surprise and not so bad, relatively speaking.
Young Michael Kovak (Irish newcomer Colin O’Donoghue) is desperately looking for a way out of the nowhere life working as a mortician in the family funeral home. But according to his father Istvan (Rutger Hauer) either you work with the dead or you become a priest. Seizing an opportunity to escape (with the backup plan of quitting, should “the calling” not manifest itself) Michael heads to seminary school. Four years later he is at a crisis of faith cross-road, wanting to leave the priesthood before taking his final vows. A strongly-worded suggestion from one his instructors send Michael to Rome to enroll in a course on Exorcism.
If Michael was already skeptical, discussions with the professor, Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds) and reporter Angeline (Alice Braga) only compound matters. Sensing that the force is strong with this one Father Xavier recommends Michael visit Xavier’s old friend and famed exorcist Father Trevant (Sir Anthony Hopkins). Trevant is an “unconventional” priest and, even in the face of what others consider irrefutable proof, is having difficulty convincing the analytical young man that the devil does indeed exist and should be feared for the force of evil he is.
The puzzle pieces of Michael’s past and present come sharply into focus just as Father Trevant begins to exhibit signs of demon possession. If there was ever a time to call upon faith in God and yourself, it’s now. Michael must do both in order to save his own soul as well as Trevant’s.
I had prepared myself for what I was sure was going to be an onslaught of horror and seating-jumping moments. While there were enough of both of those elements I was pleasantly relieved that The Rite wasn’t a non-stop gore fest. It also helped that the protagonist was a comely Irish lad with lovely eyes and a tragic, yet forgivable hair style. Another welcome and surprising feature was humor. There are a few self-aware moments, references to the pivotal 1973 film The Exorcist, etc. It’s pretty clear no one is taking this too seriously.
I fear genre enthusiasts will be put off by the wishy-washy attempt to make the story “real” (it’s “inspired” by true events).The story is nothing fresh and the only thing that may raise expectations for this film compared to, say, last year’s The Last Exorcism is the caliber of the largely European cast. Which then begs the question – what, did Anthony Hopkins need his bathroom remodeled or something? Why is he doing a movie like this? If it wasn’t home improvements, I’d have to say that it had to be the prospect of having an immeasurable amount of fun playing the possessed Trevant. When we first meet the older priest he’s understandably weary and subdued (atypical Hopkins character traits). Throw an unclean spirit in there and Trevant blossoms! There are flashes of Hannibal Lecter but there is something deeply and deliciously evil about Trevant under the influence of the devil. Who would pass up an opportunity like that?
I’m not sure if my saying The Rite is an OK film is going to encourage the hardcore horror fans out there. If you find yourself the losing end of a bet and have to see this film against your better judgment, you won’t be cursing the person who made you go. Not a rousing endorsement I know, but considering the circumstances, take what you can get people.