Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) an American seminary student travels to Italy to do an exorcism course. He has doubts about becoming a priest and these deepen as he is exposed to the unorthodox methods of veteran exorcist, Father Lucas Travant (Anthony Hopkins).
The basic premise of an exorcism movie requires that an audience either believes in God, the Devil and demonic possession or is prepared to suspend its disbelief for the length of the film. As I am not religious, I tend to be bored by most movies about demonic possession. However, I found THE RITE to be very engaging. After scanning the Internet in the last 24 hours I realise this may not be the case for many who see this.
I feel that if you approach this movie as a contemporary take on the classic 1973 horror film THE EXORCIST, you are likely to be disappointed. This isn’t a CG heavy, gore-squirting, bone-cracking, bile-vomiting extravaganza involving blasphemy and indecent acts. In other words, this isn’t THE EXCORCIST VII: THE EXPLOSIONING IN 3D. The film more or less declares it will not be this with a sly piece of dialogue from the Hopkins character early in the piece.
I thought it seemed liked the kind of movie about demonic possession that the Vatican might approve. A quick check of The Vatican Radio site says the film has been praised for its respectful approach to The Church’s exorcism rite. The movie draws its inspiration from a non-fiction book by Matt Baglio.
The film posits the idea that demonic possession is a real problem and there are Catholic priests trained to deal with it. When the doubting student priest, Michael Kovak encounters his first case of possession, he questions whether it might not be a case of psychiatric disturbance rather than a demon inhabiting human body. His life position is that of a sceptic looking for evidence. In this way, the movie attempts to persuade the sceptics in the audience of its truth.
THE RITE is Swedish director Mikael Håfström’s third English language feature. It is an American film shot in Hungary. The budget is American and the aesthetics and performances are therefore of a high professional standard. Perhaps the film’s European director is one reason that it doesn’t fall prey to the “travelogue” feel that many US studio films seem to have when shot abroad.
For the most part, Håfström uses standard drama techniques to tell his “real” story. The use of special effects is intermittent and not laid on thick even at the film’s climax. Hopkins acting is the film’s ace in the hole. He takes on the role of world-weary exorcist and gives it some feeling of truth. I’ve seen some criticism that he goes into “Hannibal” mode towards the end, but I didn’t think so. The movie is well-stocked with other veteran European actors like Ciaran Hinds and Rutger Hauer. English actor Toby Jones plays an amusingly perceptive American priest. The role of Kovak is played by Irish actor Colin O’Donoghue who is best known for his television work (The Clinic, The Tudors). At first I thought he was merely handsome and stoic, but he builds a convincing character and is a solid choice as lead for this unusual film.
The reason I think THE RITE is unusual is that I am not certain who the audience is for this Church-approved, exorcism film. It is not a horror film. It’s a straight drama about demons. It’s a serious film about possession. I liked this approach and was thoroughly entertained whilst not being convinced for a moment that these events were real.
THE RITE runs for 114 minutes and is screening now in Australia. I rated it 3/5.