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The Rite

A movie directed by Mikael Håfström

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The Power of Christ Compels You!

  • Feb 1, 2011
Star Rating:

There are the possession movies that are really about nothing more than possession. You know these kinds of movies. They exist primarily for the late night movie crowds; they give the guys an excuse to make their dates scream by sneaking up on them and grabbing their shoulders. And then there are the movies that use possession not as a cheap horror gimmick, but as a means for a character or group of characters to come to terms with their faith. I grant you that neither category is anything close to original. But if these kinds of movies must be made, I would rather see the ones belonging to the second category, mostly because they do a much better job in getting me to care about the characters and the situation they find themselves in. It’s not exploitation – a story is actually being told.
The Rite is a movie like that. It treads very familiar ground, but it goes about it well enough that it held my interest all throughout. It’s a dramatized adaptation of the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, in which Rome-based journalist Matt Baglio recounts his period of research with Saratoga parish priest Father Gary Thomas, who was assigned to be an exorcist for the diocese. Initially skeptical of demonic possession claims, he was sent to Rome and became an apprentice for an established exorcist, a position that would ultimately give him cause to believe in the existence of evil. Baglio would personally observe Thomas performing over twenty exorcisms; Thomas would later visit the sets of The Rite and claim that, although licenses were taken, the exorcism scenes were by in large very accurate.

In the film, Thomas is reinterpreted as Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), a young mortician from Chicago who, ever since the death of his mother years earlier, has grappled with his faith. Disillusioned with his life and with his father (Rutger Hauer), and knowing he has no financial resources for college, he decides to earn a free degree by enrolling in a seminary school and abdicating his vows as soon as he’s finished. Four years later, after being ordained, he has every intention of resigning – but an incident gives Father Matthew (Toby Jones) reason to believe Michael’s true calling is to be a priest. He’s urged to travel to Rome and attend classes on exorcism at the Vatican. He has little choice but to accept; if he were to resign, he would suddenly be saddled with a $100,000 student loan.
In Rome, Michael’s skepticism leads to the introduction of Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), an exorcist known for his somewhat unorthodox methods. He believes in the Devil, and experience has taught him to be more direct when it comes to people like Michael – people who are gutsy enough to say, “It becomes complicated when no proof of the Devil suddenly becomes proof of the Devil.” He cannot philosophize to Michael; he can only present him with the facts, which are indisputable. A local girl, who’s sixteen and pregnant, has been seeing Father Lucas for some time, for she and her aunt believe she’s possessed; while Michael can make the case that she’s internalizing abuse at the hands of her father, that doesn’t explain the spontaneous vomiting of iron spikes or her shifting demonic voice, which she uses to say things only Michael would understand.

We eventually meet an Italian reporter named Angeline (Alice Braga), whose assignment on exorcisms will hopefully benefit from Michael’s insider’s perspective. In a lesser film, she and Michael would be romantically involved; here, we see a woman who’s interested in Michael for his mind and his history. She isn’t completely free from contrivances, though. She too has been wrestling with issues that have tested her faith, and they will factor into the final exorcism scene. This is itself a cliché, and while I recognize that a certain degree of conventionalism is to be expected, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if a different approach were taken. Someone should try it someday.
The central conflict between faith and rationality builds to a development that the ad campaign has unfortunately spoiled. I will not play along, for it’s certainly possible you have managed to avoid it. I will say that the film is suspenseful, engaging, and wonderfully shot, Ben Davis’ cinematography creating an atmosphere that would rival most horror movies. The performances are also decent; Hopkins in particular is surprisingly compelling, in large part because he goes against convention and keeps his character relatively grounded. The Rite was directed by Mikael Håfström, whose previous film, the highly effective 1408, was also about a man coming to terms with the unexplainable. His new movie isn’t as consistently frightening, but then again, that really wasn’t the point. He’s tackling a subject that for some people is real, and his approach is both entertaining and respectful.


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February 01, 2011
excellent write up as usual. The way you made your paragraphs mesh together to express your opinion is very impressive. You liked this one quite a bit more than I did, I was just a little let down since I truly liked its first half, I thought I was into something fresh and different and I feel that it succumbed to the usual contrivances. It was still a fun watch, I just wished that it managed to sustain its momentum. Thanks for the review!!
February 01, 2011
I agree that it's conventional and that the ending is contrived. Still, the fact that it had an engaging premise and strong characters allowed to me to see past those things. And I liked that it was really about faith, not possession.
More The Rite reviews
review by . January 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
2 ½ Stars: This Horror Movie Almost Had The
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 …
review by . May 28, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
** out of ****     Mikael Hafstrom went from "Evil" to "Derailed" to "1408", and now, he's gone to "The Rite". Strange, how a filmmaker who can make a horror film as good as "1408" can also manage to make a film as mediocre and disappointing as "The Rite". But then again, "The Rite" is such a different film; more of a drama than a horror film, and only possessing a few good moments whereas "1408" had many scattered throughout. Long story short, it's mildly entertaining, but never …
review by . February 08, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
   Anthony Hopkins is a wonderful actor. Talented, graceful and capable of inhabiting roles as diverse as a serial killer, a motorcycle enthusiast and a disgraced president. He’s known for wonderful roles in wonderful movies, and therefore it’s somewhat depressing to see him playing a very slightly interesting role in a really not very good movie. The Rite covers one of the strangest aspects of Catholicism (of which I have a famously low opinon), in that it closely examines …
review by . February 20, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'The Rite' Two Jews On Film Don't Feel The Spirit With This Supernatural Thriller (Video)
'The Rite' is a supernatural thriller inspired by true events.  The film follows seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) who is sent to the Vatican to study exorcism.  Michael is a man with many doubts...not only about demon possession but about his own calling.  He challenges his superiors to look to psychiatry, rather than demons in treating the possessed.      When Michael arrives in Rome he is order to apprentice with the unorthodox …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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