The Rite

Directed By: Mikael Håfström

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, Alice Braga, and Rutger Hauer

I’m just going to say it.  Exorcism flicks are not my thing.  There’s something that’s fundamentally terrifying about demonic possessions.  It’s not some undead boy who drowned at a camp or some elementary school gardener out for revenge after getting burnt alive in a boiler room.  We all know they’re not real.  Demons, on the other hand, are quite real.  As a Christian, I do believe they exist.  Portraying the horrific nature of a demon on the big screen is something that can really get under my skin, so I typically stay away from exorcist flicks.  Although I try to avoid them, I’ve seen my fair share of flicks dealing with demonic possession and can give a little insight on the 2011 film The Rite.

Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) is unhappy in following his family tradition of becoming a mortician, so he does the next best thing.  He enrolls in a seminary and makes his intent known to become a priest.  However, his lack of faith disturbs him, and he submits a letter of resignation to Father Matthew (Toby Jones).  After witnessing Michael perform a blessing ritual of absolution on a dying woman involved in a cycling accident, Father Matthew adamantly disagrees with the young seminarian.  The father thinks Michael is destined to be a priest whether he believes it or not.  He convinces him to go to Rome to take a class on exorcism under the direction of his friend Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds).  Father Matthew thinks this will help Michael in his faith struggle, but Father Xavier soon sees that his teachings have not helped the young man overcome this issue.  Father Xavier sends him to work with Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a renowned Welsh Jesuit exorcist.  Under the care of Father Lucas, Michael gets to see the evil in which he does not believe.

The Rite is not your typical exorcism flick.  Generally, you have one possessed victim who’s the central focus of the film.  Some family member or friend gets a priest involved who tries to save the day by performing an exorcism.  The Rite doesn’t do this at all.  Instead, we have Father Lucas and his clientele of victims possessed by various demonic spirits.  The film recognizes that an exorcism is not a one-time thing and that possessions can last for years.  One exorcism is often not enough to rid a person of his or her demons.  It’s a refreshing take on exorcism movies which have become a sub-genre of their own.  On paper, The Rite is a film with a lot of potential.  Unfortunately, it wasted most of it.

The first hour of The Rite is great stuff.  The rest is mediocre.  There are two huge problems with the movie.  First, Colin O’Donoghue’s Michael Kovak is annoying as hell.  His struggle with faith is understandable at first.  As it continues however, it just becomes increasingly ridiculous. How many supernatural events does this idiot have to see before he will believe?  Disagreeing with a debatable subject matter is different from choosing not to believe the obvious.  It’s far more irritating as well.  The film dwells too much on Michael’s disbelief in the supernatural.  Second, the possessions themselves are not depicted well.  Director Mikael Håfström relies entirely too much on CGI to fuel the terror during these supernatural events.  When Anthony Hopkins’ Father Lucas is possessed for instance, there’s no need to go crazy with special effects.  Let The Silence of the Lambs legend bring the terror without digitally altering his face.  An actor of Hopkins’ caliber doesn’t need help from a computer to instill fear.  He’s scary enough on his own.  Just let him loose on camera.

The Rite is a film that could have dialed down the theatrics a bit.  Simplicity is better here.  The simple terror of being possessed by a demon is enough.  There’s no need for a ridiculous amount of special effects to bring the scares.  Let the actors deliver them.  For diluting its terrors with CGI, The Rite gets a 0.06% rating.  Have some Frascati with this one.  When in Rome, drink like the Romans.