Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Rutger Hauer
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Writer(s): Michae Petroni, Matt Baglio
Cinematography: Ben Davis
Original Score: Alex Heffes
Running Time: 114 Mins
Mikael Hafstrom is more than capable of directing horror, building tension amidst an intriguing premise that allows room for some good performances, we know this from one of the better recent adaptations of a Stephen King novel with 1408 starring John Cusack. So given Hafstrom’s a latest concerns the theme of exorcism and plays off the more recent history of such a subject matter you would do right to expect a good stab at the genre (excuse the pun), alas The Rite falls at the same hurdle as 1408 did, the third act.
This is not just a stumble you see, it is handled so cack-handedly realised that there is a threat that it could well dissipate any and all good will built up in the first two-thirds. The premise is an intriguing one, taking its lead from the latest Pope’s comments on exorcism and the sub-sequent movement to “re-teach” exorcism to selected priests with the aim to have enough exorcists in order to deal with the very high number of possessions that are reported every year. Into this scenario comes Michael (O’Donoghue), a man at odds with the profession he chooses to follow, he is on the cusp of becoming a priest yet has no faith meaning he believes in neither god or the devil…
Having handed in his “notice” as a priest Michael’s mentor sends him to the Vatican in an effort to help him “believe” and become an exorcist, eventually being sent to Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins) who is effectively the ultimate exorcist! Unsurprisingly the film then follows the traditional plot beats of non-believer revealing why he doesn’t believe and eventually…well you can likely guess the rest, and if you can’t I’d suggest you watch more films! This predictability in itself isn’t a big problem as the way the subject matter is handled is admirable, avoiding the OTT “pea soup and spinning heads”, as Lucas puts it, of other more trashy horror films, restraint in this day and age is all too rare yet the film is all the better for it proving that, once again as with 1408, Hafstrom knows how to craft a truly creepy, if not disturbing, mood.
Hopkins is always value for money, whether he is over-acting (The Wolfman) or simply just acting (The Silence of the Lambs), thankfully in The Rite he has balanced the two well providing the film with gravitas, and more importantly, a sense of fun that manages not to become hokey or parody as was often the case in the later Hannibal Lector films. To be fair to O’Donoghue he keeps up with the screen legend well, acting as our eyes he capably portrays a man struggling not only with his own personal faith, but also with being a modern man amidst a very old profession, all in all adding up to a very entertaining film that grounds itself in reality, well until the grand finale…
And what a finale it is, squandering everything that was good previously, Hopkins completely hams it up, Michael’s character arc succumbs to complete cliché and the cheap shocks flow like a waterfall while the worst is yet to come when Lucas’ early line about what exorcism’s aren’t is totally obliterated in minutes with cheap and poor effects and cats aplenty. The worst thing is that up until this stage I thought that this was one of the better films of the year thus far, sadly in the cocked up final throes it drops a lot of goodwill and in turn a good couple of grades.
The Rite is two thirds of a great film, atmospheric, unsettling and ultimately realistic grounded in the modern world of possession and the clergy…and then it takes a turn to disappointing town, overacting, cheap shocks and cliché are rife, a great shame given what came before.