“Do you believe in Sin?”
The Exorcist was one of the most chilling films ever made. William Friedkin used subliminal images as well as those quite famous scenes of Linda Blair being taken over by Satan himself. Ever since that time filmmakers have been trying to cash in on the phenomenon. Exorcism movies have become almost a sub-genre in the horror field. There have been everything from no-budget to mega-budget attempts. There have been both sequels and prequels to the original film. Some of these efforts have been truly worthy films with effective moments and compelling plots and performances. None have come close to the original film. The Rite is another attempt to create a modern version of The Exorcist. It’s not a bad film at all, but it’s not even close.
“The battle against the Devil, which is the principal task of Saint Michael the Arch-Angel, is still being fought today, because the Devil is still alive and active in the world.”
Michael Kovak (O’Donoghue) is the son of an undertaker. It appears to be his destiny to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he opts for a slightly different path. He decides to enter the seminary and become a priest. Before he can take his final vows, his faith is challenged when he witnesses a tragic accident. A young woman is struck by a car and asks him to perform the last rites as she lies dying. Now Michael is considering leaving the priesthood. His mentor offers him another angle that might restore his faith and keep him in the fold. A new edict from the Pope requires that each diocese have a trained exorcist on hand. A new training program is being offered at The Vatican, and Michael is sent to study the art. There he meets Father Xavier (Hinds) who teaches the class. Father Xavier decides that Michael might need more than his classroom can provide. He sends him to see Father Lucas (Hopkins). He is the most experienced exorcist in the Church, but his methods are somewhat unorthodox.
Father Lucas is working with a young girl, Rosaria (Gastini) who he believes is possessed. The girl displays all of the classic signs. She has knowledge she could not know and speaks in languages in which she was never trained. All the while Michael is of the opinion she is in more need of a good psychologist and not a priest. Still, he continues to visit Father Lucas and eventually comes up against an evil he can’t deny. His faith will be tested as he must battle the evil with only the help of a journalist he met in the class.
“What do you believe?”
The Rite attempts to distance itself from The Exorcist. Hopkins’ character makes a remark to that effect within the film. But it’s impossible to separate the two films which are far closer than was likely intended. The idea here is certainly to portray possession in more realistic terms. You have the old-fashioned practices of an older man seen through the eyes of a truly 21st-century skeptic. But, at the same time the movie is almost a constant homage to the same film it’s trying not to copy. Perhaps those images are so ingrained in our collective consciousness by now that it’s impossible to tell a possession story in any other terms. But it’s not just some of the images or lore we’re dealing with here, is it? Like the earlier film we have a priest, or nearly a priest, who struggles with the traditional aspects of possession and the obviously more modern discoveries of the human brain. Both characters have had recent tragic events that have called into question their own faith. It’s rather refreshing to find a common theme, where evil ultimately restores faith and brings two holy men back to God. Whether intentional or not in either case, the message is both frightening and hopeful.
Whatever your religious beliefs, The Rite is not intended to change your mind. However, the movie is very much about faith. I’d go so far as to say it doesn’t necessarily mean faith in God. Anthony Hopkins steals the show. For a guy who quit acting several years ago, I don’t think he’s ever worked harder. He gets to play two versions of his character here, and I have to say I found his performance nothing short of chilling, at times. He’s the kind of actor who demands your attention. He appears to have an air of authority in whatever part he might be playing. It doesn’t appear so much as a performance as a transformation. Without giving too much away here, you’ll discover that those qualities made him uniquely qualified for the part. Honestly, I’m not sure the film would have worked in any other hands.
Which brings us to the obvious flaws of the movie. It doesn’t really break any new ground. The locations are different, and the story has its own rather nice twists and turns, but it gets lost in too much contemplation. It takes too long getting to the point, and the performance of Colin O’Donoghue is too hesitant. He fails to commit to the part, and when he has to play against Hopkins he gets lost in the shuffle. He never does meet that level of immersion in the part. I just never really believed him. Marta Gastini might not have the same tools that Linda Blair had at her disposal, but in many ways she’s a much more realistic subject, perhaps too real. It might have helped if we could have gotten to know her before the feces fly. I’m always pleased to see Ciaran Hinds. He’s underused as the instructor Father Xavier. Boy, it’s always good to see Rutger Hauer. He gets very little play as Kovak’s father. Finally, Alice Braga doesn’t stand a chance in her role as the journalist. The script can’t decide if she’s a love interest or not. I suspect she might have been intended as another form of temptation for Kovak, but honestly, she has absolutely no presence. There are no sparks here, and they appear all too forced when they are supposed to be there. The film goes halfway here and should have used a bit more passion or, better yet, avoided the plot device altogether.
The real enemy is a pace that fails to keep our interest when Hopkins isn’t on the scene. There are too many contemplative moments here that are effective at nothing at all. It seems that director Hafstrom didn’t know what to do when we didn’t have Hopkins to literally take command of things. He’s inexperienced in American films, and I’m sure Hopkins was quite an intimidating presence.
The Rite is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. Much of the film was shot in Budapest, and while that gives us some wonderful atmosphere it makes the film appear a little too dreary. The high-definition presentation just doesn’t spark. The colors are all muted, and the black levels are only fair. That means no real shadow definition and a complete lack of texture or detail. The film shines most in close-ups, particularly with Hopkins. It’s a soft picture that won’t find leave a lot to admire on your fancy system.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is actually far more impressive. Hopkins uses rises and falls in his voice to create wonderful tension. There is an impressive amount of sub so that you’ll really feel some of those pounding moments. The score appears to be an emotional one that can be quite subtle at times. You’ll be surprised how often quiet and even silence is used for effect in the movie. The audio presentation does a good job of handling these dynamic shifts without requiring you to ride your remote. The surrounds make excellent use of space, and there are some rather fine scare moments to be found here.
Soldier Of God: (6:40) The movie is based on a real guy. While the events are quite fictional, the story has some roots in reality. It is true that very shortly before he died, Pope John Paul II issued an edict that a trained exorcist must be placed in each diocese. The school depicted here exists in Rome. Father Gary Thomas has performed over 1000 real-life exorcisms. This feature takes a look at Fr. Thomas and the school in Rome.
Alternative Ending and Deleted Scenes.
DVD Copy and Digital Copy.
Don’t look for answers or any deeper meaning if you decide to give The Rite a look. You won’t find them. The film masquerades as a deep-thought or philosophical piece. I’m sure those involved would like to think that’s what it is. In the end, it’s a performance piece that fails when the performances aren’t at their best. Looking for meaning is likely to leave you somewhat confused. For those answers you’ll have to look deeper within yourself. You’ll have to hold your expectations here, however. After all “What were you expecting, spinning heads? Pea soup ?”