Thursday, 21 April 2011

Film Review: The Rite

I'm just going to gazump you and answer the obvious question before it's asked. The Rite ain't no Exorcist. Ever since Linda Blair's literally head-spinning performance in 1973 every other film dealing with the subject matter of demonic possession has been expected to yield similar pea soup-vomiting results. Rather, The Rite feels more like Exorcist-lite. Indeed, most audience's sensibilities these days would probably, sadly, be offended by anything daring to attempt something as audacious.

Rookie priest Michael Kovac (Colin O'Donoghue) is suffering a crisis of faith and considering leaving the seminary before he even graduates. Doubling-down in an effort to restore Michael's faith, his tutor sends him on a two-month exorcism course at the Vatican where he is introduced to Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins). As Michael observes Father Trevant's latest exorcism of a young teenage girl, his scepticism soon comes under question after a series of inexplicable events.

The Rite attempts to be deep and profound by attempting to pose theological conundrums which even Richard Dawkins might have a hard time answering. None of which, however, are quite as clever or thought-provoking as they first sound. But then, this is a standard for this kind of film, and indeed the same hymn sheet is at use throughout; sceptic is confronted by things which cannot be explained away by science, compounded by the creepy possessed character yelling insults and an inexplicable ability to tell said sceptic things only they would know. Throw in a cheap 'sudden noise' scare and you can pretty much fill in the blanks for yourself.

That's not to say The Rite is a bad film, it's just a concept which has been disappointingly executed. There's a lot of material to work with here, none more so than the actors. O'Donoghue is convincing as troubled young drifter whose preconceptions are challenged, forced to shake his act up when he can no longer run from his past. Likewise, the part of Father Lucas is tailor-made for Hopkins with his nonchalant eccentricity and is a role he plays with believability. Indeed, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of the actual performances at hand.

And yet, there's something missing. The film ponders for far too long for no particular reason, meaning that the final act feels somewhat rushed. And while director Mikael Håfström should be commended for staying away from lavish CGI in favour of a more realistic, rustic cinematography which only adds a depth and richness to the atmosphere, the scares feel a little attenuated. As such, nothing really comes together as it should. There's enough here to entertain with each actor giving enjoyable performances, but just don't expect a horror classic.