The Last Exorcism that are both cinematically and theologically accomplished, most are exploitative and nonsensical.
The Rite, which opens nationwide today, unfortunately falls into the latter category. It's a misbegotten mess of haunted house clichés, Vatican mumbo jumbo, and Anthony Hopkins channeling Hannibal Lecter (for the umpteenth time) as well as Linda Blair!
In The Rite, "inspired by" a book about exorcisms by Matt Baglio, Colin O'Donoghue (The Tudors) plays real-life priest Michael Kovak. O'Donoghue represents the youngest and hottest but most reluctant wannabe exorcist ever. Ordained a Catholic deacon after four years of seminary, which he entered as an escape from his mortician father, Kovak is coerced into going to Rome and taking exorcist training classes taught by Fr. Xavier (the great Irish actor Ciaran Hinds, giving the only truly credible performance in the film). Like many a skeptic before him, however, Kovak is convinced that so-called demonic possession has more to do with mental illness than Satan. That is, until he meets Fr. Lucas (Hopkins), an "unorthodox" yet successful liberator of the truly possessed.
The movie is directed in thoroughly heavy-handed fashion by Mikael Hafstrom, who previously made the much better suspense yarns 1408 and Evil. According to Hafstrom and screenwriter Michael Petroni, nothing signifies the forces of darkness so much as frogs, cockroaches and even feral kittens, plus the occasional red-eyed mule. They and O'Donoghue also take great pains to assure the audience that Kovak is heterosexual. When Kovak first tells his best friend that he is entering seminary, the shocked buddy replies "Is this your way of telling me you're gay?" Once in seminary, Kovak is offended by some seemingly too-close physical contact between his neighbors. Finally, Kovak develops a pseudo-romantic relationship with a lovely, undercover journalist (Alice Braga, niece of Brazilian actress Sonia Braga of Kiss of the Spider Woman fame) out to expose "the truth" about exorcisms.
Despite great cinematography and its authentic Roman trappings, The Rite gets pretty much everything wrong about Catholicism, the Rite of Exorcism and effective horror movie-making. Demonic possession may be an enduringly fascinating topic but the Vatican, which reportedly endorsed this film and is now collaborating on a reality-based TV series about exorcisms, needs to better screen those who claim to want to do the subject justice. I doubt even the Devil would approve of The Rite.
Reverend's Rating: D
UPDATE: The Rite is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.