Hannibal Lector takes on Satan in the well intentioned yet sluggish demonic possession thriller The Rite.
This is one exorcism movie which takes itself very seriously. Not to say that other entries in this over presented sub genre treat the subject lightly, yet there is a weight and earnestness in The Rite which separates it from its peers. Unfortunately, it proves to be too much for director Mikael Hafstrom and his cast to handle.
This is a shame, since Matt Baglio’s bestselling book from which this film is “suggested” on could have been quite the movie, with its true life story of an exorcist in training filled with the types of themes (religion, faith, the role of good & evil) that would have made for a good film, which unfortunately The Rite is a few benedictions shy of becoming.
Colin O’Donoghue (his debut) plays Michael Kovak, a lapsed Catholic from a deeply religious family who enters the seminary in order to score a free education on the church’s dime.
When his ruse is caught out by his superior Father Matthew (Toby Jones), he sends Michael to Rome with the belief that God has chosen him for a purpose, namely to be an exorcist. While in the Vatican the ever sceptical would be priest attends a prestigious exorcism course, and is taken under the tutelage of veteran exorcist Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), who is battling a few demons of his own.
Throughout, Hafstrom presents a flair for the visual (courtesy of the sharp photography by Ben Davis) and the unnerving, with the exorcism of a pregnant girl (Marta Gastini) offering some genuinely creepy moments.
Yet he fails to tap into that emotional element found in the conflict of faith within many of these characters, and as a result moments of dire straits during this battle of good versus evil are let down by a lack of consequences. We are supposed to care about what happens to the souls of these men, yet are never given the opportunity to invest in their internal struggle.
A lot of it comes down to the poor casting of O’Donoghue, who although holds the screen with his stoic presence, fails to adequately portray his characters inner conflict. At times the Irish thesp does remind of a young Jason Patric, yet missing is a soulfulness which proves to be fatal to his performance and the film.
It is up to well worn shoulders of Anthony Hopkins to carry the movie, over compensating for O’Donoghue’s lack of personality often to the point of over kill.
Yet such is the struggle of The Rite. Heavy in body yet light in soul, earnest in approach to its subject yet dreary in its delivery, it is a film which cannot decide its path, and instead finds itself walking down the road to obscurity, just like many of its kind before it.