Director: Mikael Håfström
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue
Marta Gastini, Ciarán Hinds, Alice Braga, Toby Jones
Chris Marquette, Rutger Hauer
In a world that, now more than ever, steers away from the path of religion, it's curious to see how Hollywood has remained utterly fascinated with the rite of exorcism. The Catholic "procedure" of extracting Satan out of a possessed victim has spawned film classics (and their preposterous sequels) and urban legends among other things.
Considering that only 23.9% of the American population is Catholic, we could say that exorcism fascinates the remaining percentage so much because it's not really threatening to their faith.
Then, if only Catholics can be possessed by the devil, why do people still want to see movies about them? Why not do more serial killer or evil alien movies?
True, Catholicism is still one of the most popular religions on the planet (with over a billion believers spread over more than 150 countries) but perhaps what still drives people to movies about exorcism is how they've become sensationalist metaphors for, well, fighting their own demons.
The Rite is the latest installment in the "exorcism as coming-of-age" school and continues the tradition of imposing Oedipal theories in a religion that's already known for its worshiping of the father figure.
In this case, undertaker Michael Kovak (O'Donoghue) decides to escape from his father (Hauer) by enrolling in a seminary school and leaving before being ordained. When the time comes he's persuaded by his mentor (Jones) to give priesthood a try by going to Rome and becoming an exorcist. Said persuasion is mostly blackmail but we understand how anyone would want to stay away from a house filled with dead bodies and Rutger Hauer...
Michael leaves to Rome where he continues his skeptical attitude about faith until he meets Father Lucas (Hopkins), an Irish hermit, part Hannibal Lecter part Saint Francis of Assisi, who specializes in extracting demons from people, whether by tricks or "actual" exorcism.
Most of the movie centers on the case of Rosaria (Gastini) a pregnant Italian teenager who vomits bloody nails and speaks in foreign languages. While Michael suggests a shrink, Lucas sprinkles the child with holy water and reads Bible passages.
Their opposing points of view are then tested when the movie takes a twist so obvious you can't help but roll your eyes. Suddenly Michael finds the perfect opportunity to use his recent experiences, to, wait for this...exorcise his own demons.
Suddenly the movie is no longer about devils, nails and creepy cats but about Michael finally getting rid of his issues with his father basically by replacing him with another father figure.
The movie could've explored the psychological implications this strategy has had to help religious fanatics shy away from their problems by exchanging figures from their own lives for omnipotent symbols they don't need to deal with on a human level.
And The Rite doesn't even work as a scary movie either; other than the "sudden scare", the film lacks conviction in the terrifying traits of its screenplay. What should've been atmospheric is blasphemously cheap, what should've been creepy results crappy.
Hopkins adds unnecessary gravitas to roles that from now on should be called "Oscar winners hamming up their acting chops to regain notoriety" and O'Donoghue, while pretty, lacks presence as the protagonist.
The Rite as a whole is a movie that's more confused about its own beliefs than its own characters. Does it want to be scary? Prescient? Campy? An acting showcase? A biopic? A criticism to Catholicism? A praise of Catholic faith?
Whatever the answer is, the film truly lacks spirit.