‘The Rite’ doesn’t have the right stuff

The prickly topic of exorcisms has been an interest of many film directors over the years. From The Exorcist to Stigmata to The Last Exorcism, possession has kept audience members riveted to their seats, likely horrified and terribly interested. There have been so many films that the sub-genre has taken on easily identifiable characteristics: the possessed speaks in a foreign tongue; a priest prays by the bedside; one’s posture becomes as stiff as a cadaver.

This makes watching The Rite, the new Anthony Hopkins movie, a bit of a challenge. Because the topic of demonic possession is so ingrained in cinematic lore, a new exorcism movie needs to be beyond original.

The Rite is nowhere near original, even though it’s based on a true story. Worse still, it’s a little bit boring and mostly unconvincing.

Colin O’Donoghue plays Michael Kovak, a young man who has a passing interest in becoming a Roman Catholic priest. He tries out the seminary, but feels unfulfilled by the teaching. Michael decides to drop out, but not before Father Matthew (Toby Jones) convinces him to fly to Rome and take a pontifical course in exorcisms. According to the priest, the dioceses of the world are in need of more exorcists and maybe the dark-leaning Michael would be the right fit.

Once in Rome, he begins challenging his professor, Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds), with a dose of scientific wherewithal. Impressed by the young man’s aptitude and spunky personality, Father Xavier introduces him to Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), a wily exorcist who lives in the hilly outskirts of Rome. Much like Luke Skywalker meeting Yoda for the first time, Father Lucas begins to teach Michael the ways of the possessed. No lightsaber battles in this one.

Immediately, Michael, the ever-doubter, begins to become convinced that something in the world has gone awry.

The Rite, based on the nonfiction book by Matt Baglio, has promise. Its premise is interesting, especially since the movie tries to ground the story in actual Roman Catholic doctrine. However, right from the start, the acting never matches up to the seriousness of the story. Hopkins is playing a character he’s played a million times before: the old, wisened loner (think The Edge or The Wolfman). Don’t let the collar confuse you; this is classic Hopkins.

O’Donoghue also doesn’t convince as the young skeptic. His furrowing brow too often feels like resigned apathy rather than genuine questioning. His budding relationship with a fellow classmate, played by Alice Braga, doesn’t go anywhere.

The script by Michael Petroni can never find the right mood: Is this a character piece? Is this a horror movie? How much religion should be included?

The director, Mikael Håfström, does his best with the sub-par material. But even he is unable to heighten the drama. After a while, The Rite becomes a slog, never unbearable, but hardly invigorating.

To the discredit of the movie, when Michael makes his inevitable conversion to believing in possession (and thus God), the audience has already zoned out, wishing for the credits to roll.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • The Rite

  • 2011

  • Directed by Mikael Håfström

  • Written by Michael Petroni, based on a book by Matt Baglio

  • Starring Colin O’Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins, Toby Jones, Alice Braga and Ciarán Hinds

  • Running time: 114 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images and language, including sexual references

  • Bubble score: 2 out of 4

  • Click here to purchase The Rite on DVD.

  • Click here to purchase The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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