“The Rite” is a film inspired by true events, based off of Matt Baglio’s “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist.” The fact that the original story holds some truth is disturbing, but sadly the film is not. Even with Anthony Hopkins, known for his chilling portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” the film is predictable and does not do much to test the limits of the PG-13 rating.
The movie begins by meticulously developing the character of Michael Kovak, played by Colin O’Donoghue. The film somehow makes O’Donughue’s being a mortician look mundane, even though working with dead bodies would not be normal for most people. This sluggish background information continues for a quarter of the movie. The message is the Kovaks run a funeral home.
The film makes clear that Kovak and his father have a strained relationship. Because of the nature of his work, his father is odd, which resulted in an abnormal childhood for Michael as shown through choppy flashbacks. In an attempt to follow his father’s wishes, and to get away, he decides to enter a Catholic seminary.
Kovak realizes his doubts regarding faith are excessive, so he sends a resignation e-mail to one of his teachers. The teacher feels he should not drop out, and thinks viewing exorcisms might spark his faith or suggest a new career path. He threatens to force Kovak to pay $100,000 in loans immediately if he doesn’t attend a training course about exorcism before he decides to officially drop out.
Kovak grudgingly agrees to take the class, and goes to the Vatican. He asks scientific questions during class discussion that show he has doubts about the authenticity of demonic possession, and this leads his teacher to tell him about an unorthodox priest, Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins).
About this time he meets Angeline (Alice Braga), a journalist who is also taking the course. The on-screen relationship between Kovak and Angeline is confusing. The nature of their bond is not orchestrated thoroughly, so there are fickle hints of a romantic connection.
The first time Kovak meets Father Lucas, the priest is performing an exorcism on a young girl and invites Kovak to watch. The girl is fairly creepy, but her portrayal of a possession is conventional for this genre of film. Surprisingly, Trevant answers his cell phone during the exorcism. There are several humorous moments like this throughout the movie, which make it difficult to take any of it seriously.
Although the girl throws up nails, can see things she shouldn’t be able to see and speaks languages she didn’t know before, Kovak still believes she could just be schizophrenic. He then meets a young boy who is allegedly possessed and has huge bite marks all over his body, which do not look like anything a human could do. After being repeatedly beaten over the head with signs that the devil is real, Kovak’s skepticism starts to waver, but only slightly.
Even after he speaks with his father on the phone, and then learns that his father actually died six hours prior to the conversation, he is still not convinced.
When it seems Trevant has become possessed, it is up to Kovak to save him. He is forced to face his doubts and decide what he believes during the exorcism of his mentor, during which Hopkins’ acting skills shine.
Hopkins’ performance might be enough to salvage this film, but he cannot stop the film from being predictable, especially for those who have seen exorcism films before.
“The Rite” was the top movie over the weekend.