When sitting down to watch an exorcism film, one should be prepared to deal with a lot of crosses and other Christian religious imagery and rhetoric. Odd how it only seems that demons possess followers of that one religion. When is Satan going to send a demon to possess a Jew, Muslim or Hindu? Beyond the fact that “The Rite” was an overall mess of a film, the amount of religious diatribe I felt was being rammed down my throat really put me off.
Colin O’Donoghue plays Michael Kovak, the son of a mortician who feels he is forced to go into one of the families two long traditional professions. He either will stay working as a mortician as he is currently doing as the film begins, or he has the choice to become a priest. Thinking he can get a free ride scholarship by taking the road to priesthood and dropping out at the last-minute, he goes off to seminary school. Right before it is time for him to become a priest and right as he is ready to run away from it all, he is convinced to go to Rome and take the Vatican’s course that trains Exorcists. Kovak is eventually introduced to Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins in what has become his typical over acting “creepy fun guy” role) and it is then, that his faith (or lack thereof) starts to be challenged.
“The Rite” is not a massively long film (clocking in at about two hours) but it felt like I was sitting there for an eternity. The film is laboriously drawn out and creates too much back story that does nothing to push the film on a visceral or emotional level. About one hour into the film, Kovak’s character witnesses something that pretty much is incontrovertible evidence that an exorcism he is witnessing is real, and not an act of a desperate and troubled person. Yet, his doubt over what he believes to not be true goes even deeper from that point forward. It is a natural reaction on the part of anyone to come up with a reasonable explanation for these events, but in the situation proposed in the film, it is hard not to swallow your pride and admit you were wrong.
I don’t know if the character of Father Lucas was written differently at first and changed when they landed Anthony Hopkins for the film, but the end result was far too erratic for its own good. The character drawn is that of the wise professional that knows everything but likes to play the silly card to lighten up the mood (he literally answers a call on his iPhone during an exorcism session) but in the long run just makes the whole experience unbalanced. This also makes it harder on the film to try to scare the audience. Frankly, every single moment that the film tried to make you jump could be seen a mile away by a blind person wearing a scarf over their eyes and the overall general creepy factor of the film just didn’t exist.
The only thing about the film that was really enjoyable was the architecture of Rome, when they weren’t trying to let people know they were in Rome by opening up with the obligatory shot of the Colosseum. Though, I was a little thrown off by the lecture room in the Vatican that the exorcism classes were being taught. I know parts of the Vatican are a lot more high-tech these days, but I seriously thought they were holding these classes in Admiral Ackbar’s war room as opposed to a place of worship.
“The Rite” will make its money and it will scare other people and if you believe in the devil you will love it. But if you want a modern exorcism film to watch, go and check out “The Last Exorcism” which I have grown to like a little bit more, since seeing it again.