Though it tries hard not to fall into the trappings of your typical exorcist movie, THE RITE never really gets to shine and I think that has a lot to do with the limitations the film set for itself. THE RITE has been advertised as a blockbuster, but I think it would have been more successful being a smaller film. I think that the director Mikael Hafstrom (1408, DERAILED) shows a lot of potential. The opening scenes set a mood for a dark and disturbing film as we watch our star, Michael Kovak (played convincingly by Colin O’Donoghue), preparing a corpse for showing at a funeral home. The opening had me expecting good creepy things for this film, but the longer I sat with THE RITE, the more I began to see how predictable it was.
One of the problems with this film is that it covers a large span of time in so little screen time at the beginning of the film. Michael decides to go to seminary school instead of becoming a mortician like his father (played by the sinfully underused Rutger Hauer). Immediately, it’s four years later and Michael is close to graduation, but decides he lacks the faith to become a priest. So his professor (played by sinfully underused actor #2 Toby Jones) sends him to the Vatican to study exorcism where he meets another teacher (played by #3 sinfully underused actor, Ciaran Hinds) who after one class with Michael decides to send him to see Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) who has an unconventional style of performing exorcism. First off, that’s a lot of shuffling around you get in the first half hour of the film. I know everyone wants to get to the scenes between Hopkins and his apprentice exorcist, but a scene or two explaining why Michael lacks faith would have been nice. Instead, the director sloppily decides to put it all in writing for us to read in an email Michael writes to his professor. Sounds like an important dramatic moment that was missed. There is a nice scene where Michael must give the last rites to a woman who is struck down in the street by a car, but by this time, he already is doubting his faith and we have no real clue as to why. Because we are not completely sure of Michael’s absence of faith, it’s kind of hard to really feel for all of the angst he’s oozing in every scene he’s in. And there’s a lot of this going on.
But of course, this is a film about exorcism, right? THE RITE does have some nice imagery that makes things somewhat spooky. Hafstrom’s camera lingers on religious iconography throughout the film which set to the right score can give anyone the creeps. The creeps never really pay off though. We have the typical contorting girl in a chair spitting and spouting secrets only a demon would know. For a film that tosses out the line, “What did you expect, pea soup and spinning heads?” it certainly doesn’t go out of its way to make the exorcism itself very spectacular or original. The actress is somewhat creepy and there is a bit of coolness involving some vomited up nails that I wasn’t expecting, but for the most part, I got more of a jolt from the jump scare involving one of the many cats littered about than in the exorcism scene itself. When a cat jump scare is the biggest fright in your film, you know there’s a problem.
Anthony Hopkins is somewhat reserved as Father Lucas Trevant. I’ve seen Hopkins chew up the scenery more so in other films. I was expecting a hammy performance, but Hopkins really gives his all here and even at his age, offers a lot of physicality to the role. There are a few instances of his matter-of-fact way of moving on after a tense moment (something that annoyed the hell out of me in both of the Lecter films after SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) that is sometimes amusing, yet has become Hopkins’ schtick. So those tired of said schtick should be prepared for more here. Hopkins does offer some convincing lines here and there and seems, for the most part, sincere throughout.
Colin McDonoghue carries the weight of this film on his shoulders as the faithless exorcist in training Michael Kovak. The newcomer is a charismatic actor, sort of a cross between Jason Patric and Ryan Gosling. I spent a good part of the movie thinking he’d be a good pick for the lead in a new Superman film, which doesn’t say much for the movie itself, but says a lot about his performance.
THE RITE ended up being a capable film–one well shot, well acted, and one that conveyed a grim mood. But the conventions of age old exorcism cliches, the under-utilization of such great character actors such as Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, and Rutger Hauer, and the scattershot way the main character is manipulated in order to get Hopkins on the screen as soon as possible really work against making THE RITE anything more than a movie that I didn’t hate. Had THE RITE been a little more in depth as far as what goes into an exorcism or what kind of person could do this as a profession, it might have been a better film. That’s not this movie. THE RITE doesn’t want to go that deep, which is too bad. I would have liked that movie more.