Synopsis: Inspired by true events, The Rite follows skeptical seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), who reluctantly attends exorcism school at the Vatican. While in Rome, he meets an unorthodox priest, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), who introduces him to the darker side of his faith.
Release Date: January 28, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
The Rite is not another movie about an exorcism. In a surprising, unexpected twist it moves away from the often silly, and laughable tones of movies about exorcism and the Church to give a methodical, detective style approach. The mystery that must be solved is one that tests faith versus science, belief versus proof. It is just as much about discovering if demonic possession actually exists as it is about the decision to trust what you see, or what you believe to be true.
Michael Kovak has grown up in a mortuary. Every man in his family has become one of two things, a mortician or a priest. Having lost his mother at a young age he was raised by his father, and we are led to believe their relationship is imperfect. In order to escape his small-town existence he enrolls in Seminary school, with no intention of ever taking his vows but every intention of taking advantage of the free college education. The Catholic Church has other plans for Michael when he informs them he does not have a strong enough faith in the Church to continue on becoming a Priest. Threatened with having to pay back his college tuition if he leaves he is assigned to spend a few months in Rome taking classes on understanding and performing exorcism’s. Michael is the perfect pupil for such a class on exorcism as he does not believe it to be true. His beliefs fall towards scientific explanations and that the “possessed” are in need of psychiatric treatment, not holy water and prayer. It is the time spent with the rogue exorcist Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) that makes Michael doubt what he believes, or has ever known to be true, as he encounters unexplainable events. Events, and happenings, that with time intersect with his own life leaving him in a state of turmoil, having to make the greatest choice for his own soul.
This is a good place to mention that this film is based on true events, an adaptation of the novel The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist. The ‘based on actual events’ titling over the opening credits is what changes things before you even begin to watch the film. Your mind instantly adjusts from expecting a lower level horror movie to embracing the skepticism that occurs with a film such as this pitted against what you believe in your own life. The slow, methodic pace of the film lends a a great deal of tension and thrill to the story. You find yourself engrossed in Michael’s journey, from the Vatican lecture halls to the aging home of Father Lucas. The mystery surrounding exorcism unfolds steadily until it grabs you with all its force. The horrors of those affected weigh heavy on your psyche. You witness not just the methods of exorcism but the emotional toll it takes on the exorcist himself to have the confidence and strength to fight the evil that burdens the person.
Losing sense of all else while watching The Rite is easy; but it is not without its flaws. The screenplay has many holes, and more explanation and/or backstory would have been appreciated. Anthony Hopkin’s is fantastic as Father Lucas, both strong and intelligent while also being humorous, but it is hard to not laugh when he resurrects a bit of Hannibal Lector in his facial expressions. The largest problem the film has to contend with is getting a modern audience to maintain a serious state when things move further into the “God/Devil zone”. This is a movie about exorcism, and the Catholic Church, but it is not so self-involved in either of these things that it makes them trite, imbecilic, and the stuff of B movie kitsch. Considering the multitude of other films that use the same material and do accomplish all three of the aforementioned the viewer has to not only suspend disbelief, but also believe in the validity that these events did actually happen. It is a difficult path to navigate for a film released during a time when religion is present yet relegated by many to a topic for intense criticism, and where the Church is no longer feared or God seen as the method of salvation and hope.
The Rite takes the more dramatic turn than horror cliche or style. It does show the exorcism’s occurring, and includes the necessary special effects to make the demonic possessions appear ghastly, but it does not subscribe to every expected plot twist or sound cue. As screenwriter Michael Petroni cleverly wrote, for Hopkins’ Father Lucas, “Were you expecting pea soup?.” I for one was expecting pea soup, what I got was far from it, thankfully.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Mikael Hafstrom
- Producer(s): Michael Petroni
- Screenwriter(s): Anthony Hopkins (Father Lucas)Alice Braga (Angeline)Ciaran Hinds (Father Xavier)
- Story: Rutger Hauer (Istvan Kovak)
- Cast: Toby Jones (Father Matthew)Colin O’Donoghue (Michael Kovak) David RosenbloomBen DavisAndrew Laws
- Cinematographer: Alex Heffes
- Production Designer(s):
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- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
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- Country Of Origin: USA