There are exorcists stationed all around the world. The Vatican have indeed sanctioned a program where each diocese would have an exorcist. This film is based on “true events”. I may believe that the film is indeed based on true events; if very "loosely". The 2011 film “The Rite” is based on the book “The Making of an Exorcist” by Rome-based author Matt Baglio which was published in 2009. Baglio participated in a seminar on exorcism by the Vatican to research his book. This book follows Father Gary Thomas who has been tasked by the bishop to become an exorcist for the diocese. Father Gary is a skeptical priest and he is reluctant to become an exorcist (although according to an interview with him, he was never lacking in Faith). He becomes an apprentice to a Rome-based exorcist and soon he faces the reality of the existence of real evil as he witnesses something that may indeed be demonic possession.
Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) is a young man raised within the confines of a mortuary under the hand of his father (Rutger Hauer), where he has developed a form of doubt to his religious faith and so, to test his atheism, he attends a seminary. Despite his lackluster performance in areas of Theology, the faculty senses something special about Michael and he is sent to the Vatican to study exorcisms. Soon, Michael is paired up with an exorcist named Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) for some ‘on the job’ training. Still reluctant to believe, and still filled with skepticism, Michael comes to the world where men of the cloth collides with the forces of the devil…
“The problem with skeptics is that they always demand proof; But they never thought of what they would do once they do have that proof.” -Father Lucas (played by Anthony Hopkins)
“The Rite” may be a film aimed at a specific audience. It is tagged as a horror film and while it is a horror film, it could’ve been so much more. The themes of skepticism and lack of faith are rich throughout the film’s first half. The direction by Mikael Hafstrom (1408) starts off very strongly. I was prepared to see a portrait of a man who is learning to serve under the Catholic Faith, he excels in all aspects of psychology and yet he fails in its Theological teachings. Despite the fact that he believes he does not have the necessary faith, he seems to be steered to this path. The script was strong in fleshing out his emotional break due to the death of his mother and the dismissal by his father. There is a lot of confidence to Hafstrom’s direction, he knows how to grab his viewer by its intriguing premise; it seemed poised to focus on a religious disarray to expose Michael’s doubts and his skepticism. I also liked some cinematic touches that the screenplay built around exorcism; there were things that were somewhat touched upon as to its symptoms, why and how some elements in the rite of Exorcism was important. These elements in the script were familiar (as seen in documentaries), but this was what made them appear important and it kept the film seemingly grounded to reality.
I am not sure, I felt that the film played it ‘safe’ and quite cautious in its execution; it was quite obvious that the film held back after the death of a possession victim. It wasted the dramatic impact and strengthening of its themes it had established in the first act to fall into the trappings of a horror film. I am not sure, while the scares were there, they weren’t anything I haven’t seen before. There were times that the screenplay slowed down to an almost full stop, and while this wouldn’t be a bad thing if it built on its characters in new ways that felt real; But it never recovered what it had achieved in the first act. Don’t get me wrong, the themes were still there, and those very learned in the workings of these themes would have no issues picking them up, but the way the film executed them felt very familiar and some elements were very predictable. It also left several issues underdeveloped and it had some plot holes that hurt the film's momentum.
As for the performances, Anthony Hopkins once again channels his teeth-gnashing signature as with “Hannibal Lecter”. Hopkins does appear quite creepy and truthfully, he does have a talent for grabbing a scene; he still has a commanding presence, but there were times that even the seasoned actor telegraphed his scenes due to the predictability of the direction. It seemed to play on the usual theatrics that all seems familiar. Michael’s relationship with a fellow student named Angelina (Alice Braga, Repo Men) seems cosmetic at best, it rather felt like an unessential element pitched in to satisfy the needs of an adapted screenplay. The film does have a few decent jolts and jump scares, but I rather thought that it just sucked the narrative impact it had achieved in the first act. I did notice that it practiced a sense of restraint and while it was a quality that was probably a tad difficult to notice, at least the film didn’t rely on a display of special effects and make up. (sure, there were the shadows, body contortions and creepy sounds, but not too much on flying objects and spinninh heads)
“The Rite” has such an imposing opening act that I felt so disappointed that it went on a route that would’ve been so wonderful only to have it stop short. It had a lot of things going for it, but it lacked lasting impact. The film has such strong potential; it touched upon something that should have been a portrait of skeptical priest, lacking in faith and he comes to realize the need for such faith. The writing tried to explain certain things, and yet it fails to explain several important ingredients (there were times that I felt that the direction wanted to focus on Hopkins' star power than any focused storytelling). This film is all about questions; just what proof does one require to believe? Would one even recognize such proof when it stares him in the face? In the end, it merely touches upon, but never fully brings its Catholic and religious themes home; I felt like I waited around for something evocative, but it never came. It isn’t a total loss, since it has its strong points; it is just a shame that it could’ve been a terrific spiritual and emotional drama, that goes for a struggle of reason, science and faith but it ends up being your usual horror film.
RENTAL [2 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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