Trainee priest and would-be exorcist Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) has got a bit of a problem. He’s not sure he believes in God any more and he certainly doesn‘t believe in the Devil; yep, his faith is on the wane. One of his tutors, Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds) dispatches him across Rome to meet his old friend Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins… Sir Anthony Hopkins to you), a grizzled and experienced exorcist who’s making slow progress with his latest patient, a pregnant sixteen year-old girl named Rosaria (Marta Gastini) who’s clearly under the influence of some baleful and malevolent presence, possibly something supernatural. Michael remains sceptical and prefers to find rational explanations for what appear to be entirely irrational occurrences. But as he becomes more familiar with Father Lucas’s work and sees Rosaria’s condition deteriorate, he begins to doubt his own doubts and when Father Lucas himself falls prey to something demonic, Michael has to question everything he believes in - and everything he doesn’t.
‘The Rite’ is an odd one. It’s clearly a film which, by its very nature, is going to invite comparisons with ’The Exorcist’ (Father Lucas even obliquely references the film at one point) and while it’s refreshing to find a modern horror movie eschewing the gore and CGI so prevalent in the genre nowadays, the fact is that ‘The Rite’ doesn’t really have anything new to bring to its chosen table. We’ve seen this all before, although admittedly not recently. The shadows of ‘The Exorcist’ looms over every frame of ‘The Rite’; Rosaria is a twenty-first century Regan (although Rosaria’s demon is substantially less foul-mouthed and vomitty than Linda Blair’s invader) and the film tick-boxes all the expected tropes - supernatural signs and portents, gravely-voiced demons, ghastly physical transformations for the possessed. Oh, and there are some frogs…
But despite the sense of déjà vu it engenders, ‘The Rite’ is, curiously, fitfully entertaining and engaging. O’Donoghue’s a compelling leading man, neatly capturing the torment of the faltering priest whose previous dealing with death - watching his father preparing his dead mother for burial - has had a traumatic impact upon him. Then there’s Sir Anthony who can always be replied upon to pile on the ham when playing these somewhat larger-than-life types (his spectacular turns in ‘Dracula’ and last year’s ropey ‘Wolf Man’ reboot spring readily to mind) but here he dials it down a bit, only really letting rip when he’s possessed by the demonic Baal and even then he just raises his voice a bit, wheels out the Welsh accent and hurls a few mild insults in Michael’s general direction. Mikael Hafstrom (who directed the John Cusack vehicle ‘1408’ in 2007) handles the material well, teasing out a few subtle scares and creating a nice Gothic atmosphere from his dank and often dingy Italian locations and he’s to be applauded for at least trying to create a real, physical horror film and resisting the urge to drown the screen in the red stuff and silly CGI demons. But the problem is that without anything particularly new in its story or its execution, it just becomes an efficient, if unremarkable little chiller; not so much ‘the rite stuff’, more of a case of just about ‘all rite’.
DVD purchasers get some deleted scenes for their sins but those who go for the Blu-ray exeprience get some ‘real life exorcist’ guff and a ‘chilling alternative ending’ which didn’t particularly chill this reviewer.
'The Rite' is out now on DVD and Blu-ray