Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Colin O’Donoghue, Marta Gastini, Alice Braga, Rutger Hauer.
Hannibal Lecter does exorcisms?
Even though it is nearly forty years old, William Friedkin’s 1973 frightfest The Exorcist is still the benchmark by which all other films about demonic possession will be judged. And so it is with the lacklustre and turgidly paced Exorcist clone The Rite. This is more of a psychological thriller, which explores the banality of evil with a distinct lack of urgency.
The Rite stars Irish stage and television actor Colin O’Donoghue as Michael Kovak, a brooding young seminary student who is struggling with his faith. Kovak decided to become a priest to avoid following his father into the family mortuary business. Recognising something in the young man though, his mentor (Toby Jones) sends him to Rome to attend an exorcism course under the guidance of Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds). In the wake of an increasing number of claims of demonic possession, the Catholic Church has created an ill-devised scheme to place an exorcist in every diocese, and it is Father Xavier’s job to train them.
In Rome Kovak is sent to meet the urbane and softly spoken Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), a veteran and somewhat world-weary exorcist who shows him the ropes and teaches him the rituals of an exorcism. “What’d you expect? Spinning heads? Pea soup?” Trevant cynically asks the sceptical Kovak after he has witnessed an exorcism performed on a pregnant teenager (Marta Gastini). As with the recent The Last Exorcism, Trevant uses a lot of trickery to convince his clients that they have been rid of their demons.
The Rite is supposedly based on true events, although really it has been loosely based on the experiences of Father Thomas, an American priest who was assigned to the Vatican to study exorcism and rituals. The film has been adapted from Matt Baglio’s book The Rite: The Making Of A Modern Exorcist, and the script comes from Australian writer Michael Petroni (The Chronicles Of Narnia: the Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, Queen Of The Damned, etc).
This is a fairly lacklustre film that is slow to develop, especially during its early scenes. It only really changes gears as it races towards its finale when Trevant himself becomes possessed by an evil demon known as Baal. It falls to Kovak to perform an exorcism. Trevant challenges Kovak’s own faith in God and himself, as their battle of wits escalates.
Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom eschews the usual head spinning, projectile vomiting, gory special effects and high body count in favour of a more cerebral approach to the theme. He directs with an unusual restraint, which mutes the potential horrors of the material. During a brief sojourn in Hollywood, Hafstrom directed films including Derailed, and 1408, an effective horror film which was based on a Stephen King short story. Hafstrom previously directed the effective thriller Evil in his native Sweden so he has an understanding of the genre and he develops an ominous atmosphere towards the end. But it is a case of too little, too late for most in the audience.
The film was shot on locations in Hungary and Italy by cinematographer Ben Davis, and these lend a strong sense of atmosphere and ominous mood to the material.
Hopkins delivers another quite mannered and disarming performance, and it is clear he is doing this one to bolster his bank balance. He seems quite bored with proceedings until the climax, when he is permitted to shamelessly chew the scenery.
In his first leading role in a feature film O’Donoghue is rather bland, and underplays his role as the conflicted young priest. Alice Braga plays Angeline, a journalist investigating exorcisms and who is keen to interview Trevant. She follows Kovak hoping to get an introduction to Trevant. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Rutger Hauer on screen, and here he is given little to do as Michael’s father. He fails to leave an impression.
Unfortunately The Rite is more of a mood piece than true Gothic horror, and it fails to deliver much in the way of genuine chills and shocks. A disappointment!