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Film Review: “The Rite” July 9, 2011

Posted by ambrosestolliker in Movie Reviews.
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The Exorcist is the benchmark against which all movies about demonic possession are measured. Undoubtedly, William Friedken’s masterpiece is a very tough act to follow.

In the past several years, horror fans have seen a bevy of movies about exorcism and possession, including The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism and Exorcist: The Beginning (and those are only the ones that actually had theater runs – I’m certain there are others out there that went straight to DVD.) It’s a subgenre of the horror genre that has shown wild variation in quality, ranging from good to passable to utterly atrocious.

Let me just say this before going on – with the exception of Exorcist: The Beginning, all of these films are freaky on one level or another, despite what the critics have said. Ever since I saw Emily Rose in the theater, I actually still get a little scared if I happen to wake up at three o’clock in the morning. “Three a.m. is the demonic witching hour. It’s a way for demons to mock the Holy Trinity.” That little pearl of wisdom from Father Moore (played by Tom Wilkinson) has given me the heebie-jeebies on the many unfortunate occasions when I’ve woken in the early morning hours needing to take a pee. So, yeah, I’m a little biased. Exorcism flicks don’t necessarily have to be good films to give me a scare. Maybe it’s my Roman Catholic upbringing.

In any case, The Rite, starring the great Anthony Hopkins, reminds me a lot of Emily Rose. It’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, it’s not nearly as bad as the critics and many people who reviewed it on Netflix claim. My wife and I watched it last weekend, and, as has happened many times following a viewing of such a movie, I invariably woke up yelling from what I like to refer to as one of my “Exorcist dreams.” My wife had to calm me down. Like I said, a bad movie can still scare me, and that’s really all I ask of most horror movies when push comes to shove. That said, The Rite is actually, in my opinion, a pretty good piece of storytelling.

What I liked: Hopkins. Intense, as always, and the man just brings a certain amount of gravitas to just about any role he takes on. He was great. Mostly though, I liked the story of a young man on the cusp of the priesthood who is skeptical about the existence of the demonic and who is not sure that he even wants to be a priest. While I thought the actor was a little implausible in the role, I thought he did a good enough job that he came across as haunted by a difficult upbringing as the son of a mortician who lost his mother at an early age. I actually cared about what happened to him. Also, the movie didn’t rely on special effects and creepy possession sequences to get a scare out of the audience. There was some of that, but compared to other possession movies, those sequences constituted a very small part of the film. It was really a story about how a young, naïve priest, a doubting Thomas type, learns that you can’t believe in God if you don’t believe in the Devil, and vice versa.

What I didn’t like: As stated earlier, I thought the actor who played the young priest, Colin O’Donoghue, was a little weak. But hey, Jason Miller is the gold standard for tortured priests and exorcists in cinema and he had years and years as a stage and film actor to hone his craft before he landed the role of Damien Karras. The kid (O’Donoghue) did all right. I thought Rutger Hauer was underutilized. He’s a great character actor (much in the same way Lance Henricksen is a great character actor) who’s taken a lot of flack over the years for making some really shitty movies, and I think the film could have benefitted from giving Hauer more screen time. Lastly, it irks me that the movie (and the horror genre is notorious for doing this in a false effort to obtain credibility and, therefore, plausibility) claims to be “based on a true story.” Only by the broadest definition could this movie – based on a book by the journalist Matt Baglio – claim to be a true story.

So, if you’re in the mood for a good popcorn movie with your wife or girlfriend, and you don’t mind running the risk of nightmares at three in the morning, then turn down the lights and watch The Rite.

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