Exorcisms seem to be a hot topic for writers and directors as of late, with several being released under the radar as well as last year’s THE LAST EXORCISM. Warner Bros. and New Line’s THE RITE is far and away from being anywhere near as fantastic as the obvious classic THE EXORCIST, but it’s perfectly clear that they want to evoke that same type of mode and atmosphere, but struggles mightily at striking anything that resembles consistency.
Stricken with a crisis of faith, Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), a mortician who works with his father, attends then attempts to abandon his commitment to becoming a priest before his final vows. Before he leaves, one of his superiors convinces him to attend a course in Rome to become an exorcist. While taking the course he continues to struggle with what he believes until he is sent to see Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins). Under the guidance of Father Lucas, Michael is forced to see the devil’s work with his own eyes and come face to face with what he has refused to believe.
Mikael Hafstrom conducts this exorcism drama from a script by Michael Petroni which is inspired by “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” by Matt Baglio. The better part of the film is directed well enough with a script that’s not terrible on a pretty cool idea, but the mishmash of drama and horror is extremely one sided which makes the majority of nearly two hour movie drag horribly. There are shortcomings in a script that has some funny moments and some genuinely creepy moments; the most unforgivable missteps are in the films main character.
The performances, with two exceptions, are all very good but it’s Sir Anthony Hopkins that steals the show when he finally shows up about 20 minutes or more into the film. His character gives the film the shot in the arm it needs at that point because that first 20 minutes is very taxing, mostly because the films lead Colin O’Donoghue. When your film’s lead character has no energy or personality there’s a problem; it’s as if O’Donoghue was sleepwalking through the whole film. Alice Braga, who plays a reporter researching the course that turns priests into exorcists, is the other wooden performance, but she’s hardly in the film so it’s not quite as unforgivable as O’Donoghue’s performance.
The character of Michael Kovak is so unlikeable and clueless that believing in his disbelief becomes almost impossible. There’s a scene where Michael assists in an exorcism Father Lucas is performing where the girl’s voice changes to a deep demon like growl, spontaneously speaks in English, knows things she couldn’t possibly know and starts puking up nails; at this point it’s pretty obvious that the girl is either possessed, or she mistook Home Depot as a buffet. The film however is so dead set on selling Michael’s crisis of faith that even after that experience and another after that plus run ins with a child with huge bite marks all over his body, Michael continues to write it all off as mental illness. So the transformation from total disbelief to believing and having to perform an exorcism which requires total faith is wholly unbelievable.
The good doesn’t completely outweigh the bad but it comes close thanks to some cool visuals and a very professional look that gorgeous to look at and at times pretty creepy. The performance by Anthony Hopkins is worth the price of admission, and while I wish there was more of him, his utilization feels like it was handled very well; it’s just a shame that we are stuck with O’Donoghue’s character for the rest. I would like to add that if it was possible that O’Donoghue appears to be someone crafted from some Hollywood experiment that spliced Keanu Reeves “acting” chops with Milo Ventimiglia’s looks. The end result with his inclusion in THE RITE basically turns it into THE EXORCIST starring Keanu Reeves and directed by “insert hack director name here.” On the bright side if they ever remake THE MATRIX then I think we have our next Neo.
It might come off as if I hated THE RITE, which had it not included a great performance by Anthony Hopkins, I would have. The movie looks great, has some pretty cool visual tricks to show off but is dragged down by an abundance woe is me drama and a hollow uninspired performance by Colin O’Donoghue. It is a film that could be defined as a guilty pleasure and if anyone asks why you would waste your time on it you can always just use the old adage, “the devil made me do it.”