Well, here we are again with the freshly-hot topics of demonic possession and exorcism served up movie-style. But we've come a long way from the umpteen-thousand films that tried to instantly cash in on a certain William Friedkin blockbuster back in the 1970s. Today, if you want your exorcism film to be taken seriously, you've got to realize that the public has done its homework and that they're aware that for every alleged case of genuine demonic possession reported, there's at least one criminal case regarding 'exorcism hysteria' and the ritual abuse of the mentally ill (if even that). Movies like THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE drew fire for changing the facts behind their true-life inspirations but still attempted to portray both sides of the controversy in the context of an entertainment--and of course, THE LAST EXORCISM scored a hit with its portrayal of a cheerful charlatan with a semblance of a conscience. If you try to serve up a film in which the Devil simply shows up and raises hell until someone reads the magic words? Well, then you'll get SEASON OF THE WITCH. I rest my case.
THE RITE makes no pretense of being objective--it voices a very strong statement of faith. It must be noted, however, that it pulls the typical cheat card of declaring "inspired by true events," offering a "where are they now" crawl at the end and THEN admitting that their work of fiction didn't actually portray any specfic living people (including the ones whose whereabouts they just described). We're also given archival footage and photographs for our consideration, but that poses another problem--you can show me a picture of a man with a dislocated jaw, but simply telling me that it happened spontaneously isn't the same thing as convincing me that it really did). I could go on, but you see the problem--there is nothing about THE RITE (and, in all fairness, nothing about THE EXORCIST) that is going to make you change your mind if you already believe strongly one way or the other. Such a film is going to succeed or fail as a MOVIE, and it's up to the cast and crew to make or break it.
And THE RITE succeeds as an engrossing horror film thanks to Anthony Hopkins and Mikael Hafstrom (director of 1408). As Father Lucas Trevant, Hopkins covers all the bases; he's not above a bit of LAST EXORCISM chicanery to help an afflicted family along, but he's not just putting on a show--he also suffers genuine grief and frustration when his gifts aren't enough to save the day. And as you've probably picked up from the trailers, he also gets to know his foe on a personal level... well, being Anthony Hopkins, he handles it all with perfect aplomb throughout and earns top billing despite not being the main character.
The true journey of faith is assigned to Colin O'Donoghue (THE TUDORS) as prospective priest Michael Kovak. The movie doesn't offer a particularly convincing explanation as to why he, of all doubting Thomases, should be railroaded into attending an exorcism course in Rome, but he, too, handles his role most efficiently, and his relationship with his mortician father (Rutger Hauer) is detailed quite nicely, as well. He asks the same questions that any of us would, and Hopkins predictably quips "Were you expecting head turning and pea soup?" But for all that, we're never taken a significant distance away from EXORCIST territory--the demon in question dips into the same bag of tricks (while keeping things dialed down to PG-13 territory).
The film certainly believes in itself--and while its actual profundity will remain the domain of the individual viewer, THE RITE boasts a cast and director more than capable of pulling off a fine blood-and-thunder entertainment--as such, it earns my recommendation.
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