The Rite (2011)

Dir. Mikael Håfström, 112 min., in theaters now

After missing out on a week or more of watching new films, I’m back to review a film I had little interest in seeing, The Rite. One would have expected a film dealing with demonic possession and exorcism to have a myriad of potently disturbing visual imagery sufficient to fill at least two hours, but director Mikael Håfström comes up with practically nothing. One of his prior films, 1408 (2007) captured the phantasmagorical spectrum of eternal damnation in a hotel room that is a convergence of malevolent spirits–or as Samuel L. Jackson’s character puts it, “an evil f&^%ing room.”

The Rite, on the other hand, reads more like a watered down version of The Exorcist (1973), and I would recommend you watch that film instead. Anthony Hopkins gives the film’s best performance, but that isn’t totally surprising given that the other characters in the film are not given very much to do.

When priest in training Michael Kovac (Colin O’Donoghue) goes to Rome to take part in a course that teaches him how to conduct a proper exorcism (and by extension, extinguish his religious skepticism) he meets with Hopkins’ exorcist priest. There’s some religious themed debate between the principle characters on whether exorcism is nothing but an antiquated custom that harms mentally ill persons by preventing intervention by the psychiatric community; but like a bad Law and Order episode, the discussions are just factoid-esque talking points from a USA Today infographic that are wadded up and forced into actors mouths to be regurgitated at regular intervals. Chances are, you’ve already had a more meaningful discussion on the topic in your head while waiting in line for tickets.

In terms of bringing the scary, apart from the occasional jump scene (including the ubiquitous cat-jumping-out-and-snarling) there is not much to speak of, except for a red-eyed demon mule. Keith Phipps, in his review downplays the role of the demon mule too much. If you’re watching this film for nothing else, the demon mule is pretty badass. However, you might be disappointed when the mule just stands there and does nothing, especially after the little boy who it has been terrorizing builds the demon mule up with a story about how it’s kicking and biting him in his dreams.

The exorcism scenes themselves are spaced much too far apart, meaning we have plenty in the way of boring exposition which bloats the run time well past where it needed to be. Rome, with it’s old buildings and narrow streets, could not have looked less scary. The cinematography in this film is a flop, with shots that should be unnerving or strange falling flat on their collective face. The most laughable sequence is in a futuristic situation room where a Vatican priest is operating a high-tech touch screen interface. It was like DiVinci Code meets Transformers.

In my entry on The Fighter I talked about how boxing films are inevitably compared to Rocky, and I would argue that no exorcism film can be discussed without thinking about The Exorcist. There is one cast off line by Hopkins’ character which answers the obvious question “How can the characters exist in this world and believably pretend not to know about this film?”, but this film doesn’t really do anything new for the exorcism subgenre of horror.

By far the most shocking part of this film is that in the course of writing this review, I’ve discovered that this film has the lowest rating (17%) on RT of any film I have ever written about on this blog. Seeing as I have reviewed gems like The Condemned and Pet Sematary II, I am genuinely stunned. While The Rite is certainly not worth all of the critical badmouthing it received, it’s not really worth sitting through either.