The exorcism sub-genre got off to a grand start all the way back in 1973 with William Friedkin’s masterful horror film The Exorcist, and since then, we’ve had a neverending parade of progressively tedious, hackneyed exorcism flicks. But last year’s The Rite has just arrived on Blu-ray (and DVD, if that’s your preferred format), and maybe you’ve found yourself gazing at that oddly-similar-to-Tommy-Wiseau’s-The–Room cover box at your local movie retailer. Maybe you’ve gotten it into your head that The Rite is worth renting, maybe even buying. Hey, you think, maybe the inclusion of Anthony Hopkins indicates that The Rite will be a step above, say, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Maybe you’re possessed, and the Devil’s the one whispering this madness in your ear. Read on for our Blu-ray review of The Rite, after the jump….
The problem, of course, is that the best exorcism film possible has already been made. The bigger problem is, it’s been nearly four decades since William Friedkin’s The Exorcist scared the wits out of the world, and because it’s been so long since the sub-genre was mastered, foolish people– people like, say, Mikael Hafstrom, who directed The Rite— have gotten it into their heads that there might be something new worth saying in a movie about exorcisms.
The fact of the matter is, this isn’t a sub-genre that much can be done with. Consider the zombie genre instead: there’s a whole bunch that can be done with that sub-genre, and– believe you me– George A. Romero’s tried to make every last one of ’em. Night of The Living Dead was a thinly-veiled deconstruction of racism, Dawn of The Dead mocked consumerism, and the more recent Survival of The Dead took the novel approach of “What if zombies were, like, on an island, dude?” Zombies have starred in horror films, comedies, musicals (see also: John Travolta’s shambling, terrifying visage in Hairspray), and just about every other genre you can think of. Same thing goes with vampires, or aliens, or werewolves.
With exorcisms, though, what else can be said that hasn’t already been said, done, and beaten into the ground a bajillion times over the past four decades? The exorcism sub-genre got a slight boost with last year’s found-footage exorcism movie, The Last Exorcism (oh, how we wish that title told the truth), but besides that lone stand-out (which, by the way, doesn’t mean it’s a good movie), every exorcism movie’s the same: there’s the troubled priest, generally with a challenged faith-system; there’s the concerned parent/guardian/housekeeper/what-have-you; there’s the scene that unfolds in a bedroom, the one where the exorcist chants the same damn Latin catchphrases at the “demon” who’s trapped in the– you guessed it– young girl’s body (why the Devil doesn’t inhabit a pro-wrestler– just not Macho Man Randy Savage, of course– I’ll never know); there’s the sequence where the “demon” makes the possessed person say all manner of naughty things. Someone must be handing out “Script-by-Numbers” exorcism kits to kids graduating film schools all over the world.
Sadly, The Rite is no different. It has all the scenes mentioned above, but it’s also got a lead actor who’s got about as much personality as the sink in my guest bathroom (note: I do not have a charismatic sink), a laughable claim that it’s “based on true events” (more on that in a moment), and Anthony Hopkins turning in a barely-conscious performance in a film that I’d be willing to bet he’s already forgotten he made. So, if a collection of “Greatest Hits” scenes from every other exorcism movie plus all that stuff sounds like it’d be up your alley, have I got the movie for you. The rest of you are advised to stay far, far away from The Rite.
…What, you’re still here? You wanna know what it’s about? Very well, then: Colin O’Donoghue– whose acting style can best be described in the form of the recent “planking” meme that’s been spreading across the internet– stars as Michael, son to a mortician who doesn’t want to get into the family business. His father (Rutger Hauer, in about two scenes) has made it clear that he’ll only approve of one of two careers, though, and this means that Michael’s “forced” into the clergy. His plan? Go through seminary school, put on the stiff collar (no giggling), go through the motions, and eventually bow out of that profession after securing his college degree. How this will allow him to dodge his father’s wrath isn’t clear, but that’s neither here nor there: Michael’s backstory is barely important to the film– you didn’t pick up The Rite because you wanted a film about morticians and the sons who (don’t) love them– so let’s move on to the “good stuff”.
Michael ends up over in Rome, taking a class on exorcism because (blah, blah, blah). He doesn’t believe in all this stuff, and neither does Angelina, the hottie (Alice Braga) who takes him out for coffee after class: she’s a journalist investigating exorcisms and the men who perform them, and she wants him to feed her info on what goes on deep within the bowels of the Vatican’s exorcism trade. This leads Michael to Father Lucas (Hopkins), who has some very unconventional methods where exorcising demons are concerned. Somewhat interestingly (the word “somewhat” has never been used more loosely, nor has the word “interestingly”), Father Lucas also seems to have a fairly laid-back approach to the whole exorcism calling…one that Michael can’t decide indicates that exorcism’s a fraud, or one that indicates that Father Lucas is just a loose cannon of an exorcist.
You can probably predict the next act without any further information: Michael follows Lucas around to a couple of exorcisms, sees things that both strengthen and weaken his opinions regarding demonic possession, and sooner or later– later, as it turns out, and just about the time the third act kicks into gear– Michael ends up having to do battle with some fairly dark forces despite his previous skepticism. If you’ve seen the trailers, then you already know that Lucas ends up possessed, that Michael’s gotta “battle” him (read: shout Latin at him, etc), and that…I’m sorry, I completely forgot what we were talking about. This paragraph bored me into a coma for about a week, which is why this review is late.
I will admit to the following: there are several interesting touches in the film, but they are literally that– touches. For example, a dream sequence (of sorts) that involves a red-eyed donkey traipsing around in the snow outside Michael’s apartment in Rome was kinda nifty to look at, and I liked the other surreal moments where someone with really, really gross fingernails attempted to choke Michael out (also in a dream sequence). Those two moments account for roughly thirty seconds’ worth of screen time. That means there are 113-and-a-half other minutes that– in a clever reversal of Michael’s disbelief in the Devil— made me question the existence of God. One suspects that this wasn’t one of the director’s intentions. Speaking of which, I’ll also say this on the movie’s behalf: it could’ve looked a lot worse. I’m not opposed to the idea of Mikael Hafstrom making another semi-big-budget Hollywood movie (or, for that matter, a horror film), but he better make damn sure that it’s got a balls-out awesome script attached to it if he ever hopes to convince me that he’s not just some guy’s well-meaning but slightly “Ree-Ree” cousin who got to make a movie after someone else lost a bet.
I promised more on the “based on real events” thing, and here it is: the Blu-ray (which, by the way, looks crisp and sounds great, as Blu-rays should, but in this case that’s like saying that a turd floating in your cereal has a nice consistency and floats well amongst the Cheerio’s) features a special feature wherein the real exorcist– the one the movie is based on (which, in turn, was based on a book)– talks about his experiences in the exorcism world. He talks about his history, how the journalist that wrote the film (who also appears on camera) came into contact with him, and blah, blah, blah: it’s a nice touch, and I’ll admit that I watched this special feature all the way through, but…I mean, come on. We’re talking about exorcism. Or, more specifically, we’re talking about grown men that believe in exorcism and want to make us believe in exorcism. I liked that this was included with the film, but as far as convincing me that anything in The Rite was “based on fact”, well…these guys may as well have tried to convince me that they’re professional Bigfoot hunters.
Also included: an alternate ending (sigh) and “additional scenes”, which are like “deleted scenes” that don’t like to be referred to as “deleted” (as not to hurt their feelings). Again, the picture’s sharp, the sound’s solid, and the coverbox didn’t explode in my face when I opened it (not literally, anyway), but the movie contained therein was weak, tedious, and a pale imitation of many, many, many other films that came before it. Do not bother with The Rite. I can guarantee you that this review was more entertaining than the movie itself.
My grade? D-