Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, Ciaran Hinds
Matt Baglio (Book), Michael Petroni
New Line Cinema
To his credit, Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins earns his paycheck in Mikael Hafstrom's The Rite, an "inspired by a true story" flick about a skeptical seminary student, Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) who rather reluctantly finds himself attending exorcism school at The Vatican under the guidance of Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds), who also recommends his spending time with Father Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), an experienced practitioner of exorcism who has been particularly busy as of late.
A supernatural thriller far more interested in psychological chills than traditionally graphic horror ones, The Rite features a spot on perfect Anthony Hopkins surrounded by a supporting cast, especially O'Donoghue as the skeptical seminarian, who seem completely clueless as to what to make of this material and where to go with their characters. While the early scenes in The Rite are suspenseful and menacing with tremendous promise, by the film's mid-point Hafstrom has lost control of the film and The Rite disintegrates into a dull and self-important exercise in cinematic drooling disguised as psycho-theology.
Michael has just about given up on the idea of the priesthood, but is encouraged by his superior (Toby Jones) to study at The Vatican before making a decision. The son of a mortician, Michael is deemed clearly able to such traumatic sights as demonic possession due to having grown up in a home where death and corpses were a daily experience. His father (Rutger Hauer) at one point encourages the lad by saying "Don't be afraid... It's just your mother."
Boy, I thought my childhood was weird.
So, by the time Michael arrives alongside Father Trevant he's fairly well dismissed most things spiritual and, most certainly, the idea of demonic possession being anything more than mental illness. His first experience with Father Trevant encountering a pregnant teenager is devoid of anything resembling pea soup or a spinning head, exhibiting instead more signs of mental illness than demonic possession. Of course, Michael remains unconvinced.
You'll be unconvinced, as well, by the end of the film's 119-minute running time.
As Kovak, O'Donoghue becomes the Robert Pattinson of the priesthood, affording the film a sexy and mumbling performance meant to project his inner reflectiona and soulfulness but more often than not projecting a simple lack of personality and interest. It's truly a shame, because while nobody in their right mind would consider this a masterful Hopkins performance it most certainly is an entertaining one that goes over the top then jumps even higher. Had O'Donoghue actually managed to give Hopkins something to play against, The Rite may very well have been one of early 2011's early rewards. Instead, it's one of the year's early disappointments.
Alice Braga is mostly under-utilized as a journalist attempting to grab an interview with Father Trevant as she investigates exorcism, while Ciaran Hinds does what he can with a mostly thankless role.
D.P. Ben Davis's lensing awards the film with far more polish than it ever lives up to, while the original score from Alex Heffes and Dave Whitehead's sound design too often blend together to overwhelm the project. Hafstrom starts off giving the film an aura of creepiness, but by film's end creepiness has turned to camp and Hopkins is so over the top that any hope of a truly resonant ending is gone.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic