Based on a book called The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, director Mikael Hafstrom brings The Rite to the silver screen. Ostensibly a horror in the same mould as The Exorcist of The Last Exorcism, The Rite actually acts more as simply a personal drama centred around it’s lead character. A moderate box office success it took over $90m from a modest budget of $37m.
Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) is the son of an undertaker (Rutger Hauer) who, following the death of his mother, has enrolled in a seminary school. Four years pass and disillusioned with his path in life, he hands a letter of resignation to Father Matthew (Toby Jones). As a compromise Matthew sends Michael to Rome to try a course on exorcism run by Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds) on the basis that if he still feels disillusioned he can leave with no issues. Xavier teaches Michael about exorcism and sends him to see Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) in hopes that he can convince him of his faith and truth behind exorcism.
Ever since William Friedkin made The Exorcist, the sub-genre of exorcism-based horror films have become one of the most prolific in Hollywood. The Rite continues the archetypal trend of having a skeptical priest slowly learning to accept the truth of exorcism and belief through a series of trials and tests. What The Rite fails to have compared to any number of similarly themed films is scares. It is more drama than proper horror and while certain elements are creepy and adhere to horror film conventions, there is little in terms of tension and jumps.
The cast are solid, although the excellent Toby Jones and Ciaran Hinds are wasted in nothing more than cameo roles, while Anthony Hopkins does his best to instill and almost Hannibal Lector-type quality into Father Lucas. The Rite‘s biggest problem with casting lies in its main character with O’Donoghue giving an uneven and potentially nervous performance. This is fine in early scenes, but when he’s supposed to have found the confidence to overcome the issues laid before him he is unconvincing and distracting. He’s even thrust into a mid-film advert for McDonalds fast food restaurant that is horribly distracting and tension-removing and while it is understandable to have product placement in films today, when dealt with this heavy-handedly it is a real crime against cinema.
The Rite then is a horror film that isn’t scary and a drama that isn’t engaging, meaning that whatever the purpose of making the film was is lost in both regards. Despite some powerhouse actors it is a disappointing and rather dull entry in the horror film genre.