Okay, I admit it — I’m a sucker for exorcism flicks. Always have been, always will be. Ever since William Friedkin’s original The Exorcist burned itself indelibly into my memory as a kid, I’ve never missed a movie about some hapless schmuck in a robe trying to drive demons out of people.
And there sure have been a lot to choose from lately, haven’t there? Midway through the decade just passed it looked like this once-sort-of-mighty horror subgenre had finally run out of gas after the two different versions of The Exorcist prequel bombed at the box office, but now it’s come roaring back with films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, last year’s indie-horror mini-sensation The Last Exorcism, and now this latest Anthony Hopkins starring vehicle, The Rite.
Of course, you don’t go into a movie like this expecting anything new per se (or at least you shouldn’t), the only question is whether they’ll serve up a familiar dish well. I’m pleased to report that for the most part, director Mikael Hafstrom and co. get the recipe right. And eating seconds (or thirds, or fourths, or fifths, as the case may be) isn’t the end of the world if the dish itself still tastes pretty good.
I haven’t eaten yet today. Can you tell? And I probably should, but before I do let me just say a few brief words about The Rite because an in-depth cinematic analysis really isn’t all that necessary here, just a glossing-over the relevant points so you can decide whether or not this is worth a handful of your hard-earned dollars a couple hours of your life.
First off, Hopkins is solid. As Welsh exorcist (can’t be too many of those around)Father Lucas Trevant he’s pretty much mailing it in for the first two-thirds or so of the film, but once he gets demon-possessed in the final act (whoops, gave something away there) he really pulls out all the stops and delivers one of his signature blood-curdling performances. Fun stuff all around.
The other nominal lead, young (and dubious, and reluctant — of course) exorcist-in-training Michael Kovak, is handled by an actor I’m unfamiliar with named Colin O’Donoghue. He’s got all the charisma of three-day-old pizza and if you give a flying fuck about him you’re engaging in a serious bit of charity, because there’s just nothing notable about his performance whatsoever, but you’re not going to this to see him (if you’re sane) so I guess in the grand scheme of things his painful lack of acting ability hardly matters all that much.
Hafstrom, who seems to have a pretty solid visual eye as a director and keeps things stylishly bleak and mysterious without venturing too heavily into music-video territory or anything like that, has assembled a respectable little supporting cast that includes the always-awesome Toby Jones as the headmaster (or dean, or Father Superior, or whatever they’re called) of the seminary Kovak is nominally still attending (he’s trying to quit), Ciaran Hinds (last seen around these parts in Todd Solondz’ Life During Wartime) as a second-tier Vatican priest/functionary, the rather fetching Alica Braga as Kovak’s European fellow student-exorcist (evidently the Vatican is willing to go co-ed in this field — who knew?)/sort-of love interest, and Rutger Hauer, who it’s just plain always great to see in anything, as Kovak’s mortician father.
The plot, such as it is , concerns our intrepid young not-really-sure-he-wants-to-be-a-priest going to Rome to learn the ins and outs of exorcisms in a last-ditch attempt to, frankly, have some faith scared back into him since his meter’s running pretty low in that regard, and along the way he teams up with Father Lucas and learns that all this demonic possession shit is for real and a nasty demon entity migrates its way from a young girl into Lucas himself (I gave that away already, so no need to shout at me twice or anything). Basic stuff, supposedly “inspired by true events,” since the old standard disclaimer of “based on a true story” is probably a bit too much of a reach in this case.
Have you seen it all before? Of course. Have you seen it done better? No doubt.
And frankly, in recent years, you’ve seen it done a lot worse, too. The Rite isn’t out to shatter your view of reality or leave you with indelible nightmare images of a world you’d rather not face or anything of the sort. At least I hope that wasn’t the film’s intention, because it sure falls well short of the mark as far as that goes. It seems more likely to me that it’s just out to do a solid, competent job of telling a story we’ve seen dozens of times over and are sure to see dozens of times again. It succeeds well enough in that regard, and since that’s the absolute most I was hoping for anyway, I’m prepared to give it my — uhhmmmm — blessing.