Directed by Mikael Hafstrom
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Marta Gastini
Release date: January 28, 2011
An excessively verbose film, The Rite clumsily observes exorcism as being either a satanic occurrence or a descendant of a psychological one that can warrant scientific explanations. It is the credulous of one belief always trying to sway and convince the incredulous of the other belief. We’ve seen the skeptic and the believer clash numerous times before in cinema, and this film continues the redundancy of such an argument.
In a weird by yet mildly surprising way, The Rite, directed by 1408 director Mikael Hafstrom and adapted from a true story based on Matt Baglio’s book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, relies heavily on such intense arguments rather than having a clinging dependence on the unpleasant and abhorrent images that tend to go along with films depicting exorcisms. Films such as the horror classic The Exorcist and even the fairly recent and slightly nerve-tingling The Exorcism of Emily Rose had an intensifying inclination, even perverse in some instances, to dwell emphatically on the tortured subjects of the devil. Scarcely would a scene present any relief for the audience.
Compared to other exorcism films The Rite’s images aren’t as disturbing or violently horrific, giving audiences moments of relief. The film’s PG-13 rating can be thanked for that. There are your occasional demonic howls and growls. There are some who will long for images that trouble every waking moment of their existence. But Hafstrom shows an indifference to such longings, as he wants to penetrate your mind not by instilling fear but by instilling lots and lots of talking in a roundabout way. Maybe he takes this route because he is determined to get the most out of Anthony Hopkins (which wouldn’t be much if we refer to Hopkins’ recent films). Even this proves to be somewhat ineffectual.
Hopkins has the capacity as an actor to make you squirm and cringe. Maybe it is because no matter what role he embodies he perpetually makes us recollect his iconic, bordering on tiresome, role as Hannibal Lecter. In The Rite he plays Father Lucas Trevant, a priest who has undoubtedly witnessed every possible incarnation of evil known to man. And despite Hopkins bringing some form of life to the film as a man of moral upstanding, his Father Lucas still, underneath his wardrobe of Catholicism, emanates diabolical qualities.
Father Lucas’ latest encounter with evil is with Rosaria (Mara Gastini showcasing her screaming chops), a 16-year-old who has been raped by her father and now has the misfortune of being pregnant while being possessed, possibly, by the devil. A young man sent to the Vatican to examine Father Lucas’ current undertaking of eradicating demonic qualities is Michael (Colin O’Donoghue). He is no stranger to death and the freakishly odd. His father owned a funeral home and Michael had many times to acquaint himself with the dead. Fresh from seminary school he occupies many unique theories that clash with Vatican beliefs, mostly psychological and scientific theories. He incessantly tries to reason his way through the demonic occurrences pervading his existence, dismissing theological ideas with hopes of arriving at the truth via empirical evidence.
By adhering to the PG-13 rating of the film by his dismissing of the demonic aspects the film should have, Hafstrom makes it his prerogative to excite our fear by heightening the dread of the atmosphere. Though it’s a conventional norm in films charting demonic occurrences, such as the heavy rainfall, stray animals, and uncharacteristically long nights, the effect of the atmosphere is marked with unusual strength. Fear is implied through the film’s atmosphere and mood. This partly makes up for the film’s lack of a frightful narrative. There is no originality to the film. Hafstrom plucks from certain film’s aspects and motives and integrates them into his film to create nothing of a novelty. Maybe (and this is a big maybe) his film could’ve reached semi-prodigious heights if he tried to re-create some scenes that William Friedkin directed in The Exorcist. Some people never get tired of some spinning heads and some delicious pea soup.
** out of *****