Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Alice Braga, Colin O’Donoghue, Rutger Hauer
Directed by Mikael Håfström
Religion and horror go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and chocolate. But when the dual Bills (Blatty and Friedken) made The Exorcist back in the day, they sort of ruined demonic possession for everyone else. I certainly don’t envy any filmmaker with the cajones to tackle the same subject matter. It’s like trying to make a killer shark flick – no matter what you do, you’ll never be Jaws. So it’s no surprise that The Rite is exactly what you think it is — another mediocre religious thriller living in the shadow of an untouchable classic.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A young priest (Colin O’Donoghue) with a crisis of faith decides to take on a demonic possession case in Rome (he doesn’t believe in this sort of stuff). As he questions the events around him, he’s led into a series of exorcisms on a young girl with the guidance of an old sage-like exorcist (Anthony Hopkins). Oh, and it’s based on “true events.”
Yes, it’s derivative as hell, but the first half of The Rite still manages to be fairly interesting because it takes noticeable steps to differentiate itself from The Exorcist. Rather than piling on the Dick Smith make-up, the script takes a real-world approach to the questions behind demonic possession and leaves it up for the viewer to decide — at least for a while. At one point, a skeptical O’Donoghue sits in on his first exorcism and is under-whelmed when it amounts to nothing more than a mentally disturbed girl thrashing around in her chair, to which Hopkins responds, “What did you expect? Spinning heads and pea soup?”
As our bland protagonist weighs the evidence, various apocalyptic signs (frog plagues, etc) begin to appear and point to something larger that never fully materializes into the plot. Mostly the film spends a lot of time with discussions about faith and skepticism, anchored entirely by a great eccentric performance from Hopkins. Granted all these themes were explored with much more class in The Exorcist (hell, they were explored better in director Mikael Håfström’s 1408), but The Rite gets a few points for taking a realistic and largely subtle approach in its early scenes.
But this is Hollywood, and subtlety doesn’t sell popcorn. Just like the ridiculous jump-the-shark finale of The Last Exorcism, all these interesting ideas go straight to Hell (literally!) when Hopkins’ character randomly gets possessed by the evil spirit of William Shatner and undergoes a physical transformation into a raving CGI boogeyman. After years of terrible religious thrillers, this level of showy climactic bullshit has become commonplace, but seeing Hopkins go down this route is like watching an Oscar morph into a Razzie before your very eyes. It’s just embarrassing.
Naturally, there’s the inevitable exorcism and epiphany for our characters, but none of it really adds up. And isn’t that true of this entire subgenre over the last 20 years? Do you remember The Order? Lost Souls? Stigmata? Of course not. Pretty soon, you won’t remember The Rite either.
I cast you out!
2 1/2 out of 5
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