The Rite (2011)
(15) Running Time: 114 mins
Reviewed by Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
I have read an alarmingly high number of either bad or average reviews for this exorcism chiller, and after watching this for the first time the other day, I am baffled. I can understand the film may be a little slow for today’s gore and violence lovers, and to be fair there aren’t a lot of scares on offer. But, I thoroughly enjoyed The Rite and a lot more than I expected to as well. Maybe that is why I did enjoy it so much, because I wasn’t expecting much. See, I’m a sucker for a good story and an involving, sinister plot that draws you in and, at times, fascinates and The Rite did just that. I would not go as far as to say it is on a par with classics such as The Omen or The Exorcist, but the style of film we have here is much the same. Character driven, well acted, a slow and brooding pace with a sense of impending doom, the odd scare that is not expected, a believable central character and good, honest moments of real emotion and uncertainty. In fact, just writing this, I feel I may have liked The Rite even more than I care to admit.
Good to see Rutger Hauer continue his return to movies as he plays the small, but important role of a soon to be Priests Dad. Father and Son run a funeral business where they prepare bodies to inch perfect precision. Colin O’Donoghue plays his Son, Michael Kovak, and rather than continue in the family business, he has decided to escape his personal problems and become a Priest, just for a way out. Father Matthew (Toby Jones) see’s potential in Kovak and urges him to travel to Rome to learn the ways of becoming an exorcist, if only to secure his scholarship. Kovak seems to be a non believer and it takes a freak accident for him to address his possible gifts and head to Rome. Once we get to Rome the camera swoops and hovers over the gorgeous surroundings and takes you right into the centre of the beautiful city. The production on this film is superb, and the strong European feel is captured incredibly well, as is the religious under-current and the power of the Vatican itself. Kovak will be here to learn the ways of exorcism as apparently the Vatican received a staggeringly high number of letters of people being possessed in the last year. Kovak, however, has other ideas and is one of those factual people who would rather exhaust every other cause before even suggesting a person is possessed. In a film like this, you may think that his beliefs would become irritating; however it works brilliantly well to counter-act the strong beliefs of his new mentor Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds).
Battling his own personal demons and missing his dead mother after many many years, Kovak refuses to believe and speaks out in class against his teacher and offers up a solution and questions everything Xavier tells his class on some cases of possession which are being discussed. The actual discussion and lecture on possession cases is an incredibly unsettling moment as photos of ‘victims’ are displayed on a large projector, and as Xavier begins to give names of particular Demons, the whole film goes from slightly edgy thriller into a full blown disturbing chiller as you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and from here on in it gets really creepy. Anthony Hopkins plays Father Lucas Trevant, one of the longest serving exorcists and one who has more experience than any other Priest alive. Xavier suggests Kovak meets with him in order to encourage his beliefs, Kovak, all smiles and confidence in his own beliefs, agrees. We now head into dark territory as the pair meets up, and Trevant tries to convince Kovak that Demons do indeed exist, and even allows Kovak to assist with his current ‘patient’. Much has been said of Anthony Hopkins’ performance in this film, with many shockingly stating he ‘hams it up too much’. My opinion is that Hopkins gives one of the finest performances I have seen him deliver in many years, and I actually found the film slightly less interesting when he wasn’t on screen. That’s not to say the film loses its focus in his absence, it is more a praise at Hopkins’ startling and powerful delivery of a Priest in a dark and lonely place, with only his army of cats for company. This is a broken man, and one who does his work not out of love or faith, but out of duty to his beliefs. Witness him tell the story of a young boy dying in his care, or listen as he explains to Kovak that he is both his current patients exorcist AND Doctor, and try not to get a little chocked up.
Hopkins commands the screen, and becomes a truly terrifying presence as the film goes on. His methods are supposedly un-orthodox but he gets results and we witness his immense forcefulness over his latest subject as he tries to force the Demon from her, and at the same time prove to Kovak that possession is real. In a wonderful scene, he performs an exorcism and once finished and after a bit on an anti-climax, the subject leaves his house and Trevant casually walks into his front room. The look on Kovak’s face tells exactly what we the viewer is thinking “was that it??” and almost as if Trevant heard the viewer, he responds “what did you expect, rotating heads and pea soup!” It is here that you realise we are truly dealing with a movie more about realism, and that we aint gonna get any over the top scares or blood-lust, and we don’t. Granted, some of the scares leave much to the imagination, but the majority are well thought out and expertly calculated to give a real sense of evil lurking, but in an almost believable way. I think for those who really honestly believe in exorcisms will find this film absolutely terrifying. I daren’t say anymore of the plot as not to spoil things, so I will finish off by saying that The Rite was a real surprise and a good surprise too and a film I thoroughly enjoyed and it completely engrossed me. When the scares do come, and if you are patient enough to enjoy a film that relies predominantly on storytelling and character, then you will be rewarded with some genuinely frightening scenes. The whole atmosphere is dark, intense, and powerful and emotions run high throughout the film with moments of real sadness and hopelessness. The Rite is a brilliant piece of filmmaking and it is so refreshing to see a horror that can conjure up genuine scares by a good story rather than vicious violence. If you see this and get drawn into it the way I did, you just might have some issues sleeping after.