Directed by Mikael Håfström
“Inspired by true events, this supernatural thriller follows a seminary student (Colin O’Donoghue) sent to study exorcism at the Vatican in spite of his own doubts about the controversial practice and even his own faith. Only when sent to apprentice with legendary Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), who has performed thousand of exorcisms, does his armor of skepticism begin to fall. Drawn into a troubling case that seems to transcend even Father Lucas’s skill, the young seminarian glimpses a phenomenon science can’t explain or control and an evil so violent and terrifying that it forces him to question everything he believes.”
“The Rite” is PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images and language including sexual references.
But despite the Blu-ray cover’s promises of ‘true events,’ “The Rite” does eventually venture into the realm of the supernatural and we see both Kovak and Lucas plagued by unquestionably evil supernatural forces. It’s then that the movie plays the ‘Inspired by’ card, because if it’s ‘Inspired by True Events’ it still has the license to be fictional. As soon as “The Rite” removes that question of whether demon possession is real or not, it becomes a lot less interesting and it starts becoming more like every other exorcism movie that has ever been made. It becomes a bit weirder, a bit more surreal, and quite unsatisfying.
Despite my gripes with the final conclusion of the film, it does a lot right. Mikael Håfström beautifully directs the movie and makes the most out of the Rome and Vatican locations. The casting is also excellent. Anthony Hopkins is equally believable as a world-weary old exorcist or a man wrestling, literally, with demons. He can be kind or creepy with the most subtle changes of expression. Rutger Hauer is also memorable as Istvan Kovak, Michael’s mortician father. Then there’s Colin O’Donoghue as Michael Kovak. He had to carry the movie and he did so fairly well. He certainly held his own when put alongside Hopkins. Alice Braga is also good as Angelina, a reporter who gets more than she bargained for when she starts investigating the world of exorcism.
I’ll also give “The Rite” credit for depicting Catholic exorcists in a realistic manner. They aren’t shown like some religious zealot with blinders on. They thoughtfully consider all psychiatric explanations for people’s behavior before diagnosing demonic possession. They don’t hold classes in ancient stone buildings; they’re in high tech, modern conference rooms. And they aren’t depicted as people with sinister agendas in mind. They genuinely want to help people. It’s a refreshing change of pace from what Hollywood typically does. And without those worn out stereotypes, it’s a lot easier to appreciate the real theme of “The Rite” – wrestling with faith.
I’m not sure who to recommend “The Rite” to. It’s too tame for horror fans, yet it’s too fictional for anybody wanting to see a realistic portrayal of exorcisms. I think the best audience for this might be anyone intrigued with characters wrestling with their faith.
The Blu-ray has a few bonus features. On the cover of the Blu-ray is a big sticker that says “Chilling Alternate Ending.” When you watch it, it’s maybe 5 or 10 seconds different from the theatrical ending and it’s certainly not chilling. The alternate ending is way over-sold. You’ll also find a featurette entitled “The Rite: Soldier Of God.” It actually includes Father Gary Thomas, the man the movie is ‘inspired by.’ While it’s interesting to hear how the movie was inspired by him, I wanted to hear him talk more about his real exorcism experiences. What has he seen? How are they typically conducted? How does he tell a mentally ill person from a demon possessed one? None of that is answered in this featurette. It’s kind of a letdown. You’ll also find a few deleted scenes included among the bonus features.