Set in a Sartrean representation of present-day Italy, The Rite is a satirical look at exorcism and the individuals who perform them. With similarities to Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit and his belief that “Hell is other people,” Mikael Håfström’s (1408, Derailed) latest chronicles two clergymen — Michael Kovak (Colin O’ Donoghue) and his seasoned counterpart, Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) — as they try to cleanse both a pregnant teenager and a physically scarred young boy from what the children claim has taken hold of them: Demons. Coincidentally, both men have doubts about their faith, being uncertain of whether their “patients” are being afflicted by otherworldly creatures or serious mental deficiencies, though personally, Kovak puts his trust in the latter. But in The Rite, even bible thumpers have been dabbed in sin; in example, Kovak only attended the seminary because it served as a free ride, and four long years away from his mortician father — sloth — whereas Lucas exemplifies another deadly sin — greed — when he haphazardly answers his cell phone during a seemingly important exorcism in order to settle his own affairs.
So it makes sense that the film opens with a quote from the late-Pope John Paul II. “The battle against the Devil, which is the principal task of Saint Michael the Archangel, is still being fought today, because the Devil is still alive and active in the world,” a scene-card reads; using Sartre’s philosophy, the reason behind this eternal struggle is clear: Hell (a.k.a. Lucifer) is not a spiritual realm, instead, the concept of damnation is present in our fellow man. This is what The Rite explores — sometimes through satirical humor (Lucas’ hammy albeit misplaced wisecracks) and other times via characterization (i.e., the entire cast). The central irony is that these two men, having their fair share of filth on their hands, are boasted as “Servants of God,” and are thus allowed to label others as being either holy or unholy, leading them to perform unorthodox rituals, which at times have unfortunate consequences — such as suicide.
And the formula works when Michael Petroni’s (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Queen of the Damned) screenplay doesn’t try to be something it isn’t — a quality horror. Unfortunately, although The Rite works as a character study, it’s not scary. Authentically matured set-pieces that were filmed both in Budapest and Rome are underutilized as Petroni, in his adaptation of Italian-author, Matt Baglio’s book The Making of a Modern Exorcist, can’t figure out what tone he wants to set; at several points the film spontaneously switches gears — dipping into dark humor then becoming a full-fledged psychological thriller afterwards diving straight in modern horror. This lack of consistency, plagued by a dwindling pace, negates any of the film’s atmospheric eeriness.
In addition, O ‘Donoghue, the fresh-faced Irishmen, fails as a lead, mumbling his lines throughout and remaining apathetic. However, Hopkins, a talent who hasn’t faltered yet, is still a joy on-screen. As Father Lucas, Hopkins is unpredictable and amusing. In this way, Hopkins steals the spotlight off the freshman actor, who shouldn’t have been cast in the first place.
Father Gary Thomas, whose experiences with demonic forces became the basis of Michael Kovak’s character, has said that the exorcisms shown in the film are “very accurate.” In some bizarre way, that seems like an appropriate response to The Rite, which admittedly isn’t quite as exploitative as many horror films. However, it also isn’t thrilling, thus leaving not much else to be said in that respect. And although Mikael Håfström does raise an interesting question (are there truly otherworldly demons or just human evils?), there is one thing that is certain: Two wrongs don’t make a right, but a dozen make up The Rite.
January 30, 2011 @ 9:54 pm JV
“[T]he reason behind this eternal struggle is clear: Hell (a.k.a. Lucifer) is not a spiritual realm, instead, the concept of damnation is present in our fellow man.”
This reviewer completely missed the point of the movie … it’s not a satire, it’s a loose and somewhat licentious account of true events. The rites of exorcism don’t cause suicides (and what does he even mean by “unorthodox”? Did he do any research on the book this movie is based on?). He even misidentifies his deadly sins. “The Rite” was not an expose on priests’ true characters; the fact that priests are human and flawed is a reality that no one denies, least of all they. The fact that demons exist, this movie suggests, is a reality that many deny, despite very compelling evidence; has it occurred to him that this movie might be intended not as a gratuitous horror for the audience’s perverse viewing pleasure, but instead as a thought-provoking account indicating the presence of actual demons in the world?
January 31, 2011 @ 11:02 am Mike
Great Movie ! God and Christ ALWAYS WIN !!!
February 8, 2011 @ 10:02 pm Mariusz Zubrowski
Sorry JV, somewhere between furnishing my toenails, talking to my feline companions, and drinking expensive wine with a plethora of women (in all different shades and sizes), I have forgotten to retort to your less-than-flattering response to what I believe to be an excellent analysis of a horrid film.
First of all, art (if you’d like to call this pile of dung that), can be interpreted in more ways than one. Regardless, the reason that I came to the conclusion that “The Rite” studies these characters in a poignant last sequence in which Hopkins’ character proclaims “You know what attracted me to you? You reminded me of myself,” or something along those lines. Of course, because you’ve seen the film, you know what happens to Father Lucas during the film’s third act; that made me believe that this ‘demon’ saw a common evil in the other, who ironically, is the one who destroyed him.
I realize that this is a real-life account and an adaptation of a book. But come on now. What do you expect me, a hardened non-believer (or at least questioner) to think? And I surely don’t recall misidentifying the deadly sins.
As for the satire, come to think about it, I’m not quite sure if the laughs that these characters brought in were intended or not — this depends on your opinion on the screenplay. Taking the positive route, I believed that these moments had satirical elements to them, although the film, at its core, was a horror.
And if you respond, don’t expect to get another post from me for a while. I don’t have time for this!