Demons and ghosts. Belief or disbelief, no matter where you stand, both are part of a popular genre in American cinema recently. They are so popular that we have seen a recent wave of movies depicting them. Some of them intrigued us, while others disappointed, so director Mikael Håfström (“Derailed,” “1408”) has a lot to prove in the new thriller “The Rite.” Can he make a believer out of you?
Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) is an apprentice at his family’s mortuary. Not being squeamish, he prepares the bodies of the deceased and then goes about his day. In his family, every male either becomes a mortician or a priest. Wanting to get away, he decides to leave the mortuary and enter the priesthood. At seminary school, most of his professors write him off as he openly shows his disbelief in many of his classes, but one professor, Father Matthew (Toby Jones), sees the potential in Michael.
After he graduates the priesthood, Michael realizes that his lack of faith isn’t befitting a priest. As he is leaving the school, a freak accident happens and as a young girl lay dying on the road, she asks him to grant her absolution. Unable to refuse a scared, dying girl her wish, he does it. Father Matthew witnesses his compassion and refuses to let Michael leave, telling him that if he goes to Rome and completes a course on exorcism, he will be free to leave the priesthood if he still wishes to do so.
Once in Rome, Michael gets off to a rocky start by arriving at his first class late, drawing the attention of his professor, Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds). In the class, he meets Angeline (Alice Braga) who he learns is a reporter writing an article on the church and exorcisms. Father Xavier wastes no time in sending Michael to see Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), a renowned exorcist. Upon their first meeting, Michael learns a 16-year-old, Rosaria (Marta Gastini), is arriving to be prepped for an exorcism. Not truly believing, he starts to witness things that he tries to explain away, but as he continues to visit and see more events he cannot explain, it begins to shake his disbelief. Can Father Trevant succeed in both the exorcism and making a believer out of young Michael, and will he be strong enough to keep at bay the evils that wish to get a hold of him?
With so many films about possession and exorcisms being released, any film trying to garner the movie-going public has to have a few things in order to satisfy us: an original story; believability; a good script; and a cast to bring it to life. I personally have been so underwhelmed by the few past films dealing with demonic possessions because they all seemed to stay along the same path and use a basic formula that made them all seem to be cookie-cutter copies of the original “Exorcist.”
As technology and special effects have progressed, this genre of film seemed to rely on special effects and visual tricks to try to enhance the thrills, when all it did was take a bad movie and give it a few cool scenes. Look at “The Exorcist.” It came out in 1973 and was as cheeseball as it could be, but it is revered as a great and compelling film. So Hollywood listen up: special effects don’t equal scares — a fascinating script that goes more for the mind and gets you thinking is a far more driving force then just some twisted limbs.
Now, what “The Rite” does correctly is it chooses to focus where the story is going and it brings the viewer along for the ride. I like the fact that the main points of the movie are Michael’s lack of beliefs, and the mentoring relationship he starts to build with Father Trevant and not just the demonic girl and the sessions they have with her. I think that the story was well written and an acting pro like Anthony Hopkins is just the guy to help pull it off.
The story also focuses on the church and gives you an inside look at how they operate and train those brave enough to be a part of exorcisms. The truth behind the lack of faith in a priest is both absurd and yet compelling. Who among us hasn’t ever had doubts at one time or another? The search to find faith is a welcomed journey in this film and I liked the way it was shown.
The city of Rome and all of its classic architecture was a beautiful backdrop for the story. The movie had great cinematography and was both beautiful and interesting to watch. The direction and editing of the film keep you on the edge of your seat during the most intense of scenes. The effects were pretty good; I like how understated they were in the scenes with the young, possessed Rosaria, but I think maybe they got a little out of hand in some of the final climatic moments of the third act.
Overall, I liked that “The Rite” was different in its direction of story, the acting and casting were great, and the visuals were a regal addition to the story. Although some have said that it dragged in the middle, I think that most who like this genre of films will enjoy “The Rite.”
“The Rite” is in theaters now and is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images, and language including sexual references.
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