Mikael Håfström’s movie of hero-priests feels like Vatican-endorsed propaganda and little else.
It is often said the devil gets the best tunes, but how well is he served by cinema? Even today The Exorcist remains the undisputed champion of the demonic possession subgenre. All other attempts at this brand of film are held up to its light and compared by default.
After a pompous opening quote attributed to Pope John Paul II and the standard ‘inspired by true events’ notice, The Rite turns out to be weak-willed and ludicrous on both narrative and thematic levels. The Vatican did set up a school for exorcists but that’s about as ‘true’ as it gets.
Mikael Håfström’s glossy Hollywood exploration of angels and demons focuses on an American (Colin O’Donoghue) training as a priest to get away from his small town existence. Since he lacks true faith, a professor packs him off to Rome and exorcism school. What follows is a tired depiction of hocus pocus rituals and very simplistic arguments on the roots of evil.
Great actors such as Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones and Rutger Hauer slum it in extended cameos while Anthony Hopkins puts in a typical hammy turn as Father Lucas, an eccentric priest who might be sailing a little too close to the dark side.
The Rite is packed to the rafters with moral cowardice and cliché. There’s even a female victim to save *yawn*. The whole thing drags out on its chartered course with a third act so tedious it beggars, well, belief.
The debate between faith and science in these kinds of movies is incredibly old hat. At least The Exorcist and Hans-Christian Schmid’s Requiem chose a side. The Rite skirts over such issues with all the delicacy of a hammer smashing a plate. There is one good moment in which an exorcism is interrupted by a mobile phone going off, but that’s about as much invention as it can muster.
In this day and age, it is the blanket secrecy and numerous cover ups by the Catholic Church people should rightly fear. That feels very real and palpable. Håfström’s movie of hero-priests feels like Vatican-endorsed propaganda and little else.
Anthony Hopkins playing one of Christ's soldiers. Might be good.
It isn't. cliché-ridden and actually quite boring.
The Vatican will love it. Audiences won't.