Director: Mikael Håfström
Screenplay: Michael Petroni
Producers: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson
Starring: Colin O'Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins and Alice Braga.
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 114 Minutes
We are told that The Rite is ‘inspired by’ true events and ‘suggested by’ a Matt Baglio book, but perhaps the film that immediately came to mind for director Mikael Håfström was The Exorcist. “What did you expect?!” asks veteran priest Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) in his first demonstration of demonic encounter to rookie Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue), “spinning heads?!”. Only a few scenes later a possessed child is coughing up blood-soaked nails – and unfortunately that sets the tone.
The film is based around a conversion narrative, young Michael Kovak is having second thoughts about his route into priesthood given his non-belief in God, and is subsequently seen as an ideal candidate to train to be an exorcist at the Vatican. Dubious set-up complete, Michael’s skepticism is picked-up by course leader Father Xavier, and he is sent instead to meet Father Lucas, an eccentric practicing exorcist. The two debate whether his subjects, including a pregnant 16 year old girl and a young boy, are possessed, or simply in need of psychiatric help.
Anthony Hopkins’ performance is the most compelling, and any over-acting on his part is forgiven considering the rather dull Colin O’Donoghue offering little in his lead role. It is difficult to ever believe in Michael’s journey as a character as the film drifts along in predictable fashion. Alice Braga fares slightly better as journalist Angeline, but her back-story is given so little attention that her main purpose seems to be feeding lines to a demon.
Presenting the tension of 21st Century attitudes towards religion and positioning ancient beliefs against modern psychiatry is a noble aspiration, but one that falls all too quickly into near-propaganda on the side of faith. The Rite has its moments, but fails to offer any real philosophical insight, and instead acts more as collection of genre clichés. Maybe it’s aimed at those who already believe in the devil, but for now I’ll stick to spinning heads.