It is a rare instance to find a horror or thriller film that is so bad that the cheap jump scares actually elevate the material from the level of utter crap. Ladies and gentlemen, I feel this way about “The Rite,” the latest entry in what seems like a neverending stream of movies dealing with either exorcisms, possession and the presence of the devil on earth. Despite a million variations on the same subject matter, I think this subgenre is nowhere near dead just yet. If you can remember back to the end of summer, I really liked “The Last Exorcism.” Now “Devil” is a different story.
But at least “Devil” had some ambition and was not exhaustingly boring. “The Rite” is certainly a fine example of a film that tests my ability to sit patiently in a theater for two consecutive hours without leaving. Yes, I was seriously chomping at the bit to get out of the auditorium I was so disinterested.
Based on the true events described in the book The Rite: The Making Of A Modern Exorcist, it tells the story of Michael Kovac (Colin O’Donoghue), a twentysomething year-old man who does not want to follow in his mortician father’s footsteps. In an effort to get out of this profession, he enters a local seminary. After four years of seminary school and an official ordainment, he considers resigning due to his evident lack of faith. Word comes through to his Father Superior (Ciarán Hinds), who convinces him to study exorcisms in Rome before finalizing this decision.
Michael takes up this proposal and flies out to Rome and takes the course. After arriving in the class, he is advised to visit Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) who is a professional when it comes to real exorcisms. So Michael is taken under Father Lucas’s wings as he works with a pregnant young woman (Marta Gastini) who claims to be possessed. And so now we kick off the volley of some of the most mind-numbingly tiresome exorcism scenes in movie history.
The first problem is that the material is lacking in almost anything resembling an edge. While this film is rated PG-13, it is clearly one of the thinnest, most diluted PG-13s in this genre I can recall. The most disturbing content simply involves a few nails being coughed up by the pregnant girl. With this limited range of possibilities, the film plays it very safe with its supernatural content. I mildly respect the filmmakers for at least trying to keep the film on a leash, but doing this gravely handicaps itself in the long run. It does not provoke any thought, ask any questions or raise any interesting points about religion and treats it like an AFTER-afterthought.
The second problem (and it is a very big one to be sure) is that the characters portrayed in the film do an awful lot of conversing. That is not the problem in and of itself; just look at how much dialogue is in all of Tarantino’s movies. My real grievance lies in that the characters in actuality have nothing important or interesting or funny or profound to say whatsoever. And when this is the case, why does anything else matter? The story is not particularly interesting and the scares simply cannot carry the dead weight by themselves.
So the final result is a tame PG-13 exorcism film that squanders Anthony Hopkins’ great acting ability (granted, he has a few moments), pairs him up with a tragically lethargic leading man, takes no approach to religion, abides by an unbearably monotonous script, pulls few punches, takes no twists or turns, is neither campy nor fun, looks perpetually tinted with darkness (seriously, did they forget to hire a guy for lights?) and whose jump scares are the only saving grace to keep the audience awake. I have not brought myself to a conclusion about which of those is the worst offense.
I guess in the grand scheme of things, “The Rite” is not a complete bust. Some of the scenery (filmed on location) brings back memories of the fine architecture in a much, much greater movie from last year, “The American.” I am going to throw down a challenge right now. To all the audiences and critics that complained that “The American” was dull, dragging or unexciting, please go and see this movie. Come back to me afterwards and tell me which of the two you would rather view a second time.