Now in theaters
Anthony Hopkins as Father Lucas Trevant
Colin O’Donoghue as Michael Kovak
Alice Braga as Angeline
CiarÃ¡n Hinds as Father Xavier
Toby Jones as Father Matthew
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom
While there have been some entertaining films that fall under the exorcism sub-genre, all of them pale in comparison to William Friedkin’s 1973 The Exorcist, not only a milestone horror film, but a wicked and masterful slice of filmmaking. And to be honest, I don’t see any reason why Hollywood bothers to try and recapture the fury Friedkin delivered (I do see why, as far as dollar signs are concerned), because every attempt fails and The Rite is no exception.
Warner Bros. specified to Shock prior to our screening that the film favored drama over scares, and the studio was right in that respect. The Rite isn’t remotely scary, despite those TV spots and trailers that rely heavily on a five minute sequence in the film during which a priest re-plays eerie recordings from supposed exorcisms. This is a drama; not a particularly engaging drama that borrows heavily from The Exorcist, mind you, until it builds to a third act exorcism that’s painfully dull with a been-there-done-that air about it.
Written by Michael Petroni, who penned the tedious supernatural yarn Possession and Queen of the Damned (in addition to the latest Narnia adventure), The Rite asks us to invest in Michael Kovak, the son of a mortician, as played by Colin O’Donoghue – a guy who appears to be the offspring of Jason Patrick, Brandon Routh and Milo Ventimiglia. Like those actors, unfortunately, he’s about as dry as communion wafer and only so often does the film chisel away at his stony expressions to allow the audience to see some charm within.
Upon first meeting Kovak, we come to learn a.) he likes to box (similar to Jason Miller’s Father Karras in The Exorcist) and b.) his faith in God isn’t exactly 100%. Still, he ventures off from his hometown and his father (Rutger Hauer) to become a priest until Petroni sets him on a path that has him meet a guy, to meet a guy in Italy, then to meet another guy by the name of Father Lucas (Hopkins), a well-known exorcist. The whole point? To turn Kovak’s agnostic beliefs around. Other than that, there’s little risk to Kovak throughout the movie, unless you count the ol’ âcat scareâ that is literally the first âmake you jumpâ gag of the film. Along for this journey of belief is Alice Braga’s Angeline (âAngelâ-ine?), a journalist looking for an angle, and anyone who will talk, for her big story about the Vatican and its exorcism school.
Hopkins keeps the movie somewhat buoyant as the eccentric, smart-talkin’ priest and when he’s performing an exorcism on a young, pregnant woman who plays an integral part in his character, he sells it with conviction. The role also serves as a reminder that I’d never want to be screamed at by Anthony Hopkins. Ever.
It’s no secret that it is Father Lucas who becomes the possessed one by the film’s finale, and the actor throws himself into the material, but the CG-assisted makeup hinders the possession’s impact. Hafstrom – who previously directed the competent, but not fantastic 1408 – delivers few chills in the film, save for one moment involving a trail of footprints in the snow (I don’t want to give it away), and goes through the motions with a rather pedestrian vision.
The Rite poses an interesting premise, but the delivery and pay-off are nothing we’ve never seen before. Between this film and The Last Exorcism, my faith in this particular sub-genre has diminished entirely.