The Rite Review: Almost A Rite Off

THE RITE (15):
On General Release Friday 25th February

“We keep dead people in our house dad; how much worse can it get?”

From the moment said offending line is uttered in The Rite, it’s pretty obvious that things are not going to be… well, ‘alrite’ (and I mean that in both senses of the word).

Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) is the son of an undertaker (Rutger Hauer), and as family tradition dictates he is destined to spend life as either a mortician or a priest. Having tasted the life of painting the fingernails of dead corpses and apparently not liking it (the lesser known B-side to Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl), Michael chooses priesthood, but four years later as he is about to graduate, decides to withdraw due to a lack of faith. Yes; Michael is a sceptic, and presumably the thought process behind this character trait was: “Well people aren’t going to swallow the concept of exorcism as easily as they used to. I know; let’s have a sceptic non-believing central character to reflect the thoughts of the audience (“erm she’s not possessed; her dad’s raped her and she needs psychiatric care”), so that when he eventually does believe, it will be even scarier”. Probably.

Anyway, to cut a long story short (which the film doesn’t do; instead choosing to drag out this contextual backlog for longer than desired – or necessary), Michael is essentially blackmailed to continue, or risk having his scholarship converted into a whopping debt. Seeing his potential, Father Matthew (Toby Jones) suggests that Michael rediscover his faith by studying an exorcism course at the Vatican, and so off to exorcist school he trots. His professor there (Ciarán Hinds), senses Michael’s disparagement and refers him to Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), an exorcist whose methods – in the professor’s words – are not exactly traditional, but are effective. These non-traditional methods are evident pretty quickly on, when Father Lucas stops an exorcism mid-way through to answer his mobile phone. Cue a quite funny scene unfolding involving a crazed, thrashing girl and Anthony Hopkins calmly saying ‘I’m in the middle of something, can you call me back?’

Questions you will ask as you watch The Rite include, “why Anthony Hopkins, why?” (one OTB writer who shall remain unnamed accuses Hopkins of becoming a sell-out who will do any role for the money) and, “are we at least half way through yet?” It’s certainly a slow-burner and you just can’t help but wonder why Hopkins took on a role which revisits old ground without really bringing anything new to the ‘exorcism genre’. Based on the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist which explored the myths behind – and cinematic treatments surrounding – exorcism; the film strays from this message, and instead essentially descends into a standard bloody and demonic offering.

Due to the genre, there are plenty of knowing lines in The Rite played for laughs: Hopkins’s character alludes to the commonly held image of possession as popularised by The Exorcist, dryly asking, “what were you expecting? Spinning heads and pea soup?”, but then the film does very little to escape those conventions. A demonic voice, jutting limbs and straightjackets, dark sexual commands (“rape me” is a classic)… haven’t we seen this all before?

To give credit where credit’s due, Hopkins gives an impressive performance and does hold up the film, arguably saving it from being complete tripe. Veering from short-tempered exorcist, to disturbed broken man, and finally possessed; Hopkins demonstrates his range, though the inevitable Hannibal Lector comparisons will be drawn from the latter stages of his character (the image of him slapping a child requesting to be blessed is a surprisingly ‘LOL’ moment.) On the plus side, Director Mikael Håfström (“1408”) also manages to capture some beautiful shots of Rome, particularly the gothic long shots of Michael walking in the Vatican.

Opening with “inspired by true events” to really crank up the scare factor for thrill seeking teens that scary movies tend to attract (“Oh my god, this actually happened?”), The Rite plays for frights but doesn’t quite manage to do anything different. There are genuine jump in your seat moments, but then with short sharp shocks of loud music, it’s a pretty standard device that after a while is just a bit annoying: like an adult playing peek-a-boo with a 12 year old, it’s just not cute anymore. For the scary-movie mob and Anthony Hopkins fans alike it’s worth a see, but to anyone else; rest assured you’re not missing out on much…