Ever since “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), the horror genre has been increasing its attempts at realism to create chills. This is because for today’s audiences, the more believable that the story is, the scarier watching the film can be. Some horror flicks pass on documentary shooting style, preferring to throw around the phrase “inspired by true events” to add legitimacy instead.
Mikael Håfström’s exorcism thriller “The Rite” is primary example of this trend because it is not a documentary, but it claims to be based on a true story. Since the film fails to establish credibility though, it is neither scary nor realistic.
“The Rite” follows a confused young man named Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), who attempts to escape his family business by attending seminary school. Michael’s heart is not in the priesthood however, because he does not have faith in God, so he tries to opt out before taking his vows. His teacher Father Matthew (Toby Jones) convinces him to stay on longer though by offering him the chance to study exorcism practices at the Vatican.
Michael reluctantly agrees to the proposal, and departs for the Vatican. Once Michael arrives, his instructor Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds) finds little can be done to convince the skeptical student of the legitimacy of demonic possession. Thus Father Xavier sends Michael to study under a more unorthodox instructor: Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins).
Father Lucas is a practicing exorcist, who brings Michael into the trenches with him, showing him the harsh reality of possession. Slowly Michael’s shell begins to crack, as he experiences events that don’t have any scientific explanation. When he finds himself face-to-face with a demon that has possessed Father Lucas though, Michael’s faith in God and in the ability defeat the devil is put to the test.
The first main area the movie falters at building integrity is its shooting style. Håfström, the director, opts out of using video camera-like methods in favor of traditional techniques. Normally this would be fine however the shot selection does not take a wide objective format, and the director chooses to dabble in a variety of perspectives. Without an observational placement of the camera lens, the next best procedure to stress the truth of the events would be to use a different tone for the picture such as black and white, or sepia, neither of which is present.
Colin O’ Donoghue, the actor who plays the film’s protagonist, is the second key factor which prevents “The Rite” from establishing authority. He is perfect at portraying his character’s skepticism and lack of enthusiasm for the priesthood. Conversely though, he does not convincingly sell Michael’s transformation from a man of doubt to one of faith. As a result, it’s tough to buy this as a true story.
Probably the only worthwhile aspect of “The Rite” is Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Father Lucas. Hopkins uses his trademark dry wit to elicit laughs with some of his sarcastic comments toward his pupil. The most interesting aspect of his acting in the film happens after Father Lucas is possessed by a demon. There are echoes of Hopkins' previous character Hannibal Lecter in the demonic Lucas, except instead of behaving maniacally in a controlled manner; Hopkins is like Lecter without a leash. His wide eyes, blackened visage, and his crazed ramblings almost become over the top.
If you’re looking for a scary or believable horror film, you won’t find it with “The Rite.” This movie blends in with numerous other exorcism stories in the genre, failing to truly differentiate itself. While Anthony Hopkins’ presence certainly enlivens things, sadly it’s not worth the price of admission.