Film Reviews

THE RITE

By • Feb 15th, 2011 •

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THE RITE is one of those faulty films you want to like. Its cringe-inducing opening credit sequence, where young mortician Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) prepares the body of a suicidal goth-girl for her funeral, tells us this will be a horror film with all usual and expected boo-tactic trimmings. Kovak leaves the mortuary business (He works for his widower father) to join the priesthood. Shortly before graduation, Michael loses faith and e-mails a registration.

As Michael’s mentor, Father Matthew, quickly rushes across a busy California street to talk Michael out of resigning; a young woman cyclist swerves out of Matthew’s way and crashes into an oncoming truck. The priest-uniformed, but faithless Michael, rushes to the crash site, and gives the dying cyclist her last rites. It’s a gripping moment – all eyes and senses are on Michael. At this point, we are about one-third through THE RITE, and while there is a lack of visual horror, a discomforting amount of internal horror keeps us watching.

The film switches to Rome, where Michael is sticking out priesthood, and is to be tutored by Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) to become an exorcist. Lucas takes Michael to an exorcism he is performing on Rosaria, a pregnant Italian teenager. I wished that the interesting California sequences in the beginning, were longer, and the concluding Italian scenes, where you always know what is going happen two minutes before it happens, were cut in half.

Hopkins gives it his all as Father Lucas. He’s one of only two actors to win a Best Actor Oscar for playing a monster. (Of course, I am talking about SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Fredric March in 1932’s DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is the other). Lucas himself becomes demon-possessed, and Hopkins plays these scenes with conviction. His delivery of satanic ramblings is priceless. I am sure a reading by Anthony Hopkins of the horrific hate-filled “Craigslist Rants and Raves” section would be a jaw-dropper.

According to the opening credits, THE RITE is “inspired” by true events. The word ‘inspired’ gives the film-makers a great marketing loophole to lure audiences in. (Like saying INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is inspired by the true events of World War 2, or THE FLINTSTONES are inspired by the Cro-Magnon period!). Matt Baglio, the co-writer of THE RITE’s screenplay, attended seminars on exorcism held at the Vatican’s Regina Apostolorum, supposedly just for curiosity about the subject of exorcism. It was at the seminars that Baglio met Father Gary Thomas, who came from California to become an exorcist. Thomas became the basis for the character of Michael. Matt Baglio’s on-screen persona became Angeline, a pretty American reporter sitting in on the classes to write an article on exorcism. Michael and Angeline team up together when Father Lucas becomes demonically possessed. One suspects that the studio interfered, demanding Matt become Angeline, and be played by somebody as fetching as Alice Braga. The obvious studio interference hampers THE RITE’s second half. The exorcisms, with possessed people twisting and crinkling thanks to CGI, push the film towards the clichéd TWILIGHT territory. In order to keep THE RITE a PG-13 film, (and bring in loads of teen audience cash) the film becomes “cookie-cutter safe” and loses potential edge.

One of things that sent THE EXORCIST through the pop-culture roof in 1974 was the verbal nastiness coming out of Linda Blair’s mouth. When demons rant during the exorcisms in THE RITE, they are restrained, harmless, like a fowl-mouthed, bad tempered drunken teenager being told they are can’t use the car! Father Lucas lives in an Italian villa over-run by stray cats. (Thumbs up for the locations and atmosphere in THE RITE) As Michael and Angeline rush to the villa to perform the exorcism on demon-polluted and rampaging Father Lucas, frightened cats scramble to safety. As a cat owner, I was holding my breath; fearing animal torture would wind up on the screen. I’m glad it came to nothing, but I was wondering why all the build-up with the cats? I felt as if maybe director Mikael Hafstrom (whose previous credits include DROWNING GHOST and the very similar 1408 with John Cusack) filmed something the studio demanded removed. Remember, to Hafstrom and Matt Baglio, THE RITE is a film about exorcisms. To the studios, it’s a commodity about exorcisms.

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