January 31, 2011

Movie Review: The Rite

Just what we need, another exorcism movie. When will they learn that none will ever top The Exorcist. I guess never, and I guess I am all right with that. I mean, just because they won't approach the greatness of the truly frightening feature doesn't mean we can't get other good exorcism movies, right? After all, I do like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last Exorcism. Both of those movies succeed and take the subject in different directions. Perhaps it is just me getting a little defensive over the treatment of elements of my faith, but religious themed films always bring a certain controversy with them and people always get a little edgy in their presence. Please accept my apologies.

The Rite has proven itself to be a stylish, effective horror whose goal is not to belittle its source and make a mockery of faith. It is an interesting look at something that most of us know little about outside of the movies. There is a certain amount of frothy thrashing at work here, but there is a healthy dose of real world skepticism. I do not feel that the movie is about taking one side or the other, rather it is about encouraging doubt. This is, after all, a piece of entertainment and not to be taken at face value for any sort of real world relation, but it presents it in a way that is respectful yet questioning. The film is better off for it.

The film informs us that it is inspired by a true story and it is. Just be sure that you don't take this as pure fact. Again, this is a movie and it does take a certain amount of artistic license to make it entertaining. Scenes are embellished, additional material is added in, character's names are changed, and more in the name of an entertaining movie and not a documentary. It is to the credit of screenwriter Michael Petroni and director Mikael Håfström that they play it as restrained as they do.

Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) has a strained relationship with his father and runs to the seminary as a way of getting out and getting an education in the process. However, when he tries to leave, he finds himself sent to Rome to study exorcism. Of course, Kovak is in a constant state of faith crisis and is the perfect stand in for a non-believing or questioning audience.

It is his constant doubt and logic that leads him to Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an exorcist of decidedly unconventional means. Kovak joins Lucas on exorcisms. It gets very interesting as Lucas is a rather affable fellow who is open with his own periods of doubt as well as his reasons for doing what he is doing. The interplay between the two works very well to draw you in. Do you believe? Don't you believe? I cannot tell you, but the movie proves compelling. Sure, its goal is still to entertain and that means that real conversation is pushed a little to the side.

Mikael Håfström seems to be carving out a niche as a director of solid PG-13 horror, first with 1408 and now with The Rite. The movie has a slid visual style and while it may be the looked down upon PG-13 rating, but he manages to inject it with enough atmosphere and creepiness that it doesn't matter.

As for the performances, this is all about Anthony Hopkins. Simply put, the man puts on a show. He covers so much ground and does so many interesting things that he is simply a force to be reckoned with. Helping him reach the heights that only he can is Colin O'Donoghue does the straight man well. His is the character of logic, the non-believer who may be swayed, and he succeeds at that. Finally there is Alice Braga as a reporter writing about exorcism who gives O'Donoghue's troubled would-be priest someone else to bounce thoughts off of.

The bottom line is that this movie is a lot better than I wanted to give it credit for. It has a dose of heightened realism, asks some good questions, and proves to be effective as a creepy horror movie. Give it a shot, you may be surprised by what you find.


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