Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Colin
O'Donoghue, Alice Braga
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.4:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: May 17, 2011
“Be careful, Michael...choosing not to believe in the devil won't protect you from him.”
It's almost a red flag to me to see a horror movie that claims to be inspired by real events. It's a paranoia that goes back to my youth when millions fell for the scam of The Amityville Horror. True is not very true when it comes to horror, but it doesn't stop filmmakers from trying. The Rite goes so far as to give where-are-they-now epilogues to the people depicted in the movie. And all of them are fictional characters.
So what is the truth behind The Rite? Namely, that Pope John Paul II, not long before his passing, instructed his dioceses to each have one exorcist on hand. There had been an alarming increase in claims of demonic possessions over the past couple of decades, and His Holiness wanted to be ready. In doing so, there was actually a school for exorcism established at the Vatican.
A book was written based on one particular priest, and that is the jumping off point for this movie. I give it props that it takes the theology very seriously, and doesn't try to undermine or wink at the notion of evil. Movies like this and The Exorcist who don't treat good and evil as parlor tricks definitely pique my interest.
The story centers around a mortuary worker named Michael (O'Donoghue) who escapes to college through the church, but has little interest in actually following through and becoming a priest. He's a good man, but after spending a lifetime in the shadow of death, not exactly centered in his faith.
His professor recommends him for the new exorcism school at the Vatican. Why? Not because he has strong faith, but because he's not easily shaken. There, he takes the necessary courses but questions aloud why we should treat claims of possession any more seriously than claims of alien abduction.
Enter Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), a Welsh priest with a lifetime of exorcism experience. His job? To show Michael the true face of evil and the forms it will take. Like a burglar who doesn't turn on the light when he enters your home, the devil wants people like Michael to believe he's not there. Convincing the skeptical scholar won't be easy.
The film didn't frighten me the way The Exorcist did, but I can say that about every horror movie ever made. What I liked about The Rite is not that it was scary, but that it was fascinating. I never knew that there was such a school at the Vatican. It made me wonder who my own diocese's reigning exorcist is.
Best of all, as mentioned, is that the film takes the theology seriously. Nothing is worse than a picture that rapes and pillages its way through Church tradition in order to effect a few cheap scares (think: Stigmata). The Rite might end up a more cerebral horror film than many fright flick fans are used to, but I say, all the better for it. Scares are easy, but deeply rooted theological discussions are much more rewarding and much harder to come by.
It's well acted and directed, and more than worth a thoughtful look. The people and events may not all be real, but the struggle between good and evil certainly is, and deserves a bit of contemplation while you nibble your popcorn.
Very nicely done...Warner delivers a superb high definition transfer that takes both natural lighting and dark, ambient scenes to crisp, detailed perfection. Colors are natural looking throughout and range from very warm to very cool depending on the scenario.
There's a lot of dialogue, but there are also quite a few intense moments, and your subwoofer definitely gets to jump out and go 'boo' at you a few times. The surround usage is solid and discreet, and dynamic range very formidable.
There is a group of deleted scenes, a strange alternate ending, and a look at the man on whom the story was based.
I can't say The Rite scared me much, but sitting for a couple of hours in the presence of a well-written and thoughtful treatise on God and Satan was worth more than a funhouse worth of scares. Definitely worth a look!