Michael (Colin O'Donoghue) the son of widowed funeral director Istvan Kovak (Rutger Hauer) is learning the craft of the mortician, but decides to become a priest. His faith, he finds, isn't strong enough to take his final vows, but his superior, Father Matthew (Toby Jones) urges him to become an exorcist. While studying at the Vatican under Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds) Michael meets young Italian journalist Angeline (Alice Braga) who is researching a story on the subject. When Father Xavier sees Michael's atheist views are hindering his studies, he sends him to the reclusive exorcism expert, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins). Under Father Lucas' tutelage, Michael learns that disbelief in the devil is no protection from him.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Films about exorcism remind us that it is only Christians who seem to suffer demonic possession; the devil is jealously guarded by Christianity as their own entity to blame for sins and the figure against whom to direct the collective rage and fear of the faithful. The crucifix is one of the primary weapons against him (never her?), along with holy water, against the demons who squirm their way into the bodies of the innocents.
Writers of The Rite try hard to stitch together elements to give the screenplay the appearance of substance, but not very successfully. And the possessed seem to have had the same stunt choreography and make up team in every exorcism movie since The Exorcist, whose iconic moments - ironically enough - are referred to in dialogue.
Anthony Hopkins lends his gravitas to the film as Father Lucas, the main man in the world of exorcism, an experienced priest with world weary wisdom and a low key, down to earth manner. And his usual English accent. There must be a standard clause in the Hopkins movie contract which prohibits him being asked to speak in any accent other than his own - and it doesn't seem to have limited his career. Perhaps filmmakers find a work-around or simply pretend it is intentional. Without Hopkins, the film would surely burn in movie purgatory, as good as it is visually and technically.
Colin O'Donogue as Michael is the crude stand in for heaven's Archangel Michael, but first he has to be converted from his newly acquired atheism; there was a moment here when the film could have taken flight into a fiery showdown between the young priest-turned-atheist and his elders in the Church, like Father Matthew (Toby Jones) and Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds). If only . . .
Instead, the film plumps for tradition and takes us into a showdown between Lucas and Michael which could have been filmed in any one of a thousand born-again Christian churches across America (it took place in Hungary, which stood in for Italy). I won't spoil it, but imagine a scene in which a Catholic priest repeatedly shouts out the assertions about the power and love of Jesus, crucifix firmly in hand, in this case not to fire up his congregation but to get rid of the devil inside his ... er, patient.
As for the lovely Alice Braga - playing the unsubtly named Angelina - there isn't much for her to do except decorate a few scenes and urge Michael on.
Review by Louise Keller:
Suitably moody with a relentless sense of unease, this exorcism thriller has enough elements to last the distance and offers an unsettling experience. What to believe in is the question with which the film's young protagonist desperately struggles. God or the Devil? Or neither? Based on a book and inspired by real events, the storyline feels fresh, albeit overshadowed by the haunting presence of Anthony Hopkins, who seems to deliver his best work in evil or demonic roles.
In the opening scenes, the grim everyday reality of the life of the protagonist Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) is clearly shown. He has been coerced into the family business by his mortician father Istvan (Rutger Hauer), surrounded by the pale stillness of death. Taking his other option of becoming a priest (he comes from a long line of morticians and priests), Michael is none too sure about this vocation either: psychology is more appealing than theology, he thinks. It is when he is sent to Rome to study exorcism (as a last-ditch effort by the seminary to stop him from ditching his priest collar) that things become interesting. Alice Braga (Predators) is a decorative presence as the journalist who has a personal connection to the subject matter.
The atmosphere prickles with fascination when Michael meets Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), the priest and exorcist who works by unorthodox means as he visualises God's fingernail scraping away at him. He lives in an old house off a cobbled pathway where four nonchalant cats prowl and preen. After a routine exorcism with a 16 year old pregnant girl, Lucas asks Michael, 'What do you expect - spinning heads and pea soup?' Delusion or possession is the question that is next pursued.
Director Mikael Håfström instils a genuine creepiness with dim lighting, an eerie soundscape, effective silences and the tools of the trade which include scratching, chimes, creaking doors, candles and rain. Our imaginations are well oiled by the time the terrifying final exposition begins when the devil finds its way spectacularly into human form and Michael has to decide if or what he believes. It's a well made film that delivers on its own terms, leaving us suitably unnerved by the questions it raises.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
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RITE, THE (M)
CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, Marta Gastini, Rutger Hauer
PRODUCER: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson
DIRECTOR: Mikael Håfström
SCRIPT: Michael Petroni (Book by Matt Baglio)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ben Davis
EDITOR: David Rosenbloom
MUSIC: Alex Heffes
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrew Laws
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 10, 2011