DVD of the Week – Review of The Rite (2011)
by NIR SHALEV
There are plenty of films that deal with the subject of exorcisms, mostly because of the aspect of the eternal battle that is fought between the forces of good and evil. This film is not a mockumentary but one that claims to be inspired by true events. I grow tired of the caption because a good chunk of horror films claim that, as well.
Colin O’Donoghue plays Michael Kovak, the son of a funeral home owner and director who’d taught his son the tricks of the trade from a young age. But Michael believes that he has only two job choices: a mortician or a priest. Either way, he’s dealing with death at close range and he decided to attend a priesthood college. His teacher, Father Matthew (Toby Jones) believes that he has potential to be a great priest and after witnessing a strange turn of fate, he suggests that Michael fly to Rome to learn the trade of Vatican sanctioned exorcist. This is where the film grows more interesting.
Michael’s exorcism lecturer, Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds) observes that Michael may be a good candidate but that he greatly lacks faith; and Michael even tries to leave school. That is until Father Xavier sends him to shadow the work of Father Lucas Trevant (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who is, apparently very unorthodox; and unorthodox he is.
The Rite juggles humor and serious, dramatic performances wherever it can and Father Lucas is certainly hilarious. But he singularly turns the creep factor up to eleven when he asks Michael to assist him in several exorcisms. The film then turns into a good vs. evil parable while constantly reminding us that Michael is a terrible skeptic. There is a young boy that claimed that he’d dreamed of a black mule with red eyes that kicked and bit him severely. When his mother had lifted his shirt, the boy had a fresh hoof mark on his back and a fresh, large bite mark on his stomach. Michael still believes that everything he sees can be explained but never thinks of looking for proof. What he believes is solid fact and must be so, and his lessons get tougher and tougher.
This film is directed by Mikael Håfström, who’d directed a terrific ghost film called 1408 (2007). Here, he works with Hopkins, Hinds, Alice Braga, and a great young talent (O’Donoghue) and all of the performances are terrific. That’s the key element to the film’s success. The story may be recycled from other, better films in the same genre but it’s old school in its showcasing the fight between good and evil. It echoes The Exorcist (1973) greatly but is inspired by it much more than attempting to rip it off. This is well acted, well shot, and creepy atmosphere filled-filmed that makes very good use of the city of Rome and also asks the audience the popular question: where do we draw the line between religion and psychology? Demonic possession vs. psychosis? This film handles the subject well and never forgets to scare us once in a while because it’s only a movie after all.
The DVD contains deleted scenes but the Blu-ray (which comes with a DVD and digital copy) contains a Shocking Alternate Ending, Deleted Scenes, and a 7 minute featurette called The Rite: Soldier of God.
Other new releases this week: The Mechanic, The Other Woman, The Roommate