The Rite

February 2, 2011
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Ever since the 1973 film “The Exorcist,” Hollywood has been crazed with exorcisms. Following “The Exorcist” there were two sequels, two prequels, and a few more unrelated films like the “The Last Exorcism,” which came out last year. But since “The Exorcist” the movies haven’t been all that clever or creative, in that they all follow the same structure. Someone gets possessed and a priest has to exorcise the demon. After a couple times this premise gets old.

Before it turns into cheesy ridiculousness, Mikael Hasfstrom’s “The Rite” takes a somewhat fresh look at exorcism. The film doesn’t focus on a sole person who needs to be cleansed. Instead it looks at the overall idea and beliefs of the people involved. There are people ready to write off demonic possession as a serious psychotic case and there are people who believe very deeply in it and are unwilling to accept alternative possibilities. The film is about the search for the truth. What’s real and what’s not.

And surprisingly it deals with the topic in a somewhat comedic way. It’s not a satire by any means; in fact the film tries very hard to make you feel on edge. Every scene is lit in a dark, eerie light but at certain times it obviously tries to be funny. Like when Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) is in the middle of an intense exorcism and his cell phone goes off. It’s an interesting way to approach the topic because, let’s be real, exorcism is a harebrained thing.

Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donghue) is a priest in training, who decides to go over to the Vatican and take a class on exorcism. Though he’s still a little skeptical about it, even when he witnesses such bizarre occurrences as a supposedly possessed person coughing up nails. It’s as if he’s becoming a priest just to prove to himself and everyone else that demonic possession is all just a bunch of hooey.

O’Donghue doesn’t give much energy or personality to Kovak, which is a shame considering he’s the lead. The script gives him a lot of depth but O’Donghue doesn’t give us much reason to care about him. Now in all fairness, this is his film debut but perhaps he shouldn’t have taken on such a big role.

After a disappointing class, Kovak is sent to Lucas to witness actual exorcisms first hand. Lucas is the veteran exorcist, who’s seen it all and his methods are unorthodox. We are informed that he has performed over 2,000 exorcists and as the film goes on we see that perhaps those cleansings have rubbed off on him. He begins to go down a dark path and eventually becomes possessed himself.

Since his return to acting from retirement, Hopkins has made some questionable acting decisions, like the mediocre 2009 film “The Wolfman” and the upcoming Marvel comic film adaptation of “Thor.” But in this movie he holds his ground. At times he could be really intimidating and creepy and at others he was funny and kooky. As his insanity increases he becomes sillier but entertaining. Sort of like Jack Nicholson’s performance in “The Shining.”





But eventually, “The Rite” had to turn into every other exorcist movie, with all the typical exorcism clichés, where the possessed would talk in a scary voice and snap their joints. It doesn’t matter which exorcism movie it is, it always gets corny. What about the exorcism training course? That would have made an interesting movie all by itself.





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