Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Movie Review: The Rite

The Rite * ½
Directed by:
Mikael Håfström.
Written by: Michael Petroni suggested by the book by Matt Baglio.
Starring: Anthony Hopkins (Father Lucas Trevant), Colin O'Donoghue (Michael Kovak), Alice Braga (Angeline), Ciarán Hinds (Father Xavier), Toby Jones (Father Matthew), Rutger Hauer (Istvan Kovak), Marta Gastini (Rosaria), Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Aunt Andria).

At this point, I’m not sure how many exorcism movies I have seen in my life - but it has been far too many. Most of the movies follow the same basic premise - a doubting priest is called in to what some people think is a case of demonic possession, initially tries to debunk the claims, but eventually has to agree that possession is the only logical explanation, and fights to save the person being possessed. The Rite is no different.

In this case, the priest is Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), who isn’t even a priest yet. He is just graduating from seminary, and doesn’t know if he actually wants to go through with it. In his family, you either become a mortician or a priest, and he doesn’t want to work with dead people his whole life. But now that becoming a priest is a reality, his religious doubts have started to surface - he doesn’t even know if he believes in God, let alone wants to devote his life to it. His mentor, Father Matthew (Toby Jones), convinces him not to resign just yet - they are running a new course at the Vatican - one that teaches priests to be exorcists, because they want each diocese to have one on call. Michael agrees, but when he gets there, he still struggles with his doubt. It isn’t long before he is referred to Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) who has been an exorcist for years - and has a case he is working on right now.

The Rite starts out a lot more interesting to me than it finished. As an atheist myself, I was fascinated by the debate that goes into during the films first half about the different logical interpretations of possession. I think a movie that remained ambiguous about possession could actually be quite interesting. But The Rite quickly devolves into yet another The Exorcist clone - this time of course with O’Donoghue filling in for Jason Miller and Hopkins filling in Max von Sydow.

Still, I suppose that The Rite could have worked as merely an example of its genre. But the film devolves even further in its final act - and crosses over into the ludicrous. Hopkins, who is capable of being a great actor or an incredible ham, goes wildly over the top in the films final act - and yet it really isn’t even his fault, it's what the movie requires from him. I’m not sure if his over the top performance is worse than Colin O’Donoghue, who is dull as dishwater in the lead. You might at first mistake his expressionless acting as him trying to be deep in thought - but as the film goes on; you realize its how he acts in every scene. The film wastes normally interesting actors like Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and Rutger Hauer (who may not be a great actor, but he normally does something entertaining during the course of a movie).

And perhaps what is worse is that for a horror movie, The Rite is not the least bit scary - nor is it all that creepy or unsettling. Director Mikael Hafstrom had success with his last film, 1408, but here he shows no real feel for the material. There are elements here that may have worked to make a good movie, but everyone involved seemed to take the easy, lazy way out.

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