Don’t look now, but the Devil’s been pretty popular at the Cineplex lately, including last fall’s The Last Exorcism and Devil, the recent Season of the Witch, and now we have The Rite. (Then, next month, Drive Angry rolls in).
So much for that whole “the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist” business.
Of all those (and many other recent movies, frankly) The Rite is the best of the bunch– a sometimes-spooky, sometimes-scary movie, that is (for the most part) engrossing and entertaining.
Newcomer Colin O’Donoghue is Michael Kovak, a young seminary student wrestling with the fact that he doesn’t believe in God. His elders, though, won’t give up on him, and decide to give him one last shot by sending him to study with Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) in Rome. But this won’t be any ordinary internship– Father Lucas is among the world’s leading authorities on exorcism. Who better to train Michael to become an exorcist himself?
The young man arrives in Rome just in time to witness Father Lucas at work. A sixteen-year-old pregnant girl, it seems, is possessed, and she’s come for her weekly session. The skeptical Michael watches as Father Lucas treats the girl– her eyes are rolling back in her head, she’s clawing at the furniture, and she’s talking in a growly voice. Michael is convinced… that she needs a shrink.
The more and more that Michael sees, including several of Father Lucas’ other patients, the more and more he stays firm. There is no God, and therefore there is no Devil, but there are plenty of crazy people in the world. By the time we reach the climax (which could have been a nifty little surprise, if not for the fact that the trailer gave it away), he finally starts seeing why 80% of the world considers itself religious.
The screenplay by Michael Petroni (Narnia: Dawn Treader) is based on the non-fiction book by Matt Baglio, a journalist who followed a young priest who was apprenticed to an exorcist. Generally, it’s an evenly-paced and interesting script (with even a few well-placed one-liners), and, even though things start to drag a little around 2/3 of the way through, they pick up again by the time we reach the end.
O’Donoghue and Hopkins play really well off each other. Hopkins plays Father Lucas as a bit of a loose cannon; the man can casually take a call on his cell phone in the middle of an exorcism and then jokingly ask Michael, “What were you expecting? Spinning heads and pea soup?” The only downside is that Hopkins is (and will always be) haunted by the ghost of Hannibal Lecter. Too often in The Rite, you’ll see one of cinema’s most famous boogeymen shining through, and it honestly does distract a bit.
Overall, director Mikael Håfström (1408) has put together a surprisingly good film, both visually beautiful and well-crafted. His style remains consistent throughout, and The Rite full of interesting shots that actually add to the story. Even though there are a few too many silly “gotcha” moments, there are quite a few thrilling bits as well.
Whether the movie increases your belief in demonic possession (or whether you ‘buy’ any of it) is up to you. If nothing else, The Rite comes off as a pretty captivating tale.