Directed by: Mikael Håfström
Premise: A skeptical American priest (Colin O’Donoghue) travels to Rome to study the ritual of exorcism. While there he comes under the guidance of an experienced exorcist (Anthony Hopkins) with his own methods.
What Works: Early on, The Rite approaches the subject of exorcism with an appropriate level of skepticism and for the first half it successfully runs with the ambiguity, teetering between supernatural and psychiatric explanations. In this first half, Anthony Hopkins gives one of his better performances. Hopkins plays the part restrained and soft spoken, using subtle cues to hint that this priest may have some serious spiritual inadequacies or even be a fraud. Colin O’Donoghue plays the younger priest and O’Donoghue does a nice job with the material, playing the character as a real human being rather than the idealized and inhuman stereotypes that often bedevil actors playing men of the cloth.
What Doesn’t: The Rite intends to be a horror film and in that it fails. This film is just not frightening. The scenes are not set up to illicit scares; there is no atmosphere of dread, no buildup to moments of terror. Instead the movie goes through long stretches of drawn out exposition about Christian mythology and then tries to frighten the audience with jump scares that are often red herrings. Possession films are a tough subgenre for horror filmmakers; when done properly, as in The Exorcist or [Rec], they can be truly scary, but if not done just right possession movies often become silly and stupid. Too often The Rite ends up in the latter category, especially as it moves into its climax in which an inexperienced priest must perform the exorcism ritual all by himself. In this, The Rite demonstrates its other major fumble: the subplot of a disillusioned priest discovering a renewal of faith. This is a popular theme to the exorcism subgenre and The Rite does not do it very well. The story does not properly explore the sources of the young priest’s insecurities and so the moment in which he reclaims his vocation does not have any thematic weight to it.
Bottom Line: The Rite is a disappointment. It is not successful either as a horror film or as a story of renewed faith.
Episode: #325 (February 6, 2011)