There are many things that I could say about The Rite. I could say that there were a fair amount of moments of intensity and discomfort (like the haunting image of a red-eyed mule, for instance). I could say that Anthony Hopkins is the best thing that could have happened to this project (unless his casting blew the budget for the rest, resulting in the lead role going to the unprepared Colin O’Donoghue). I could say that I appreciate the film’s willingness to explore and give credence to skepticism and atheism (even if the main priest, Michael, does cling to it beyond the point where he is given proof to the contrary, resulting in a last-minute total conversion that doesn’t feel unlike a Christian propaganda pamphlet. I could say all of these things, but in order to do so beyond the scope of this review, I would have to care, and since, about two hours after watching The Rite, I forgot that I had, I don’t expect that that’s going to happen.
Maybe it had to do with Michael. From the get-go, the story tells us that he is some kind of charismatic wunderkind, who joins the ministry because of familial pressure. Once there, he waits until the very end of his education to give up, deciding that he doesn’t have the faith to go through with it. Then, instead of accepting his resignation, his superior signs him up for a course in Rome so that he can become trained as an exorcist. In order to make this all work, you need the character to be believably charming, believably intelligent, and have enough something for us to want to know what happens to him. Instead, as the poster suggests, we’re just waiting to find out when we’re going to see Anthony Hopkins, and once he does, we’re waiting for him to come back. Except for the great delivery of one line (when he discovers frogs in his seminary room), we accept Colin O’Donoghue as our protagonist, not because we particularly want to, but because that’s what the story tells us to do.
The story itself is also interestingly constructed. You’ve got father-son tension that isn’t expanded, or really introduced until ten minutes before the end of the movie; you’ve got a third possession that occurs within the last twenty minutes of the film, yet somehow ties up everything in a neat little package through an exorcism that defies rules and behaviours that were introduced at the beginning; you’ve got unnecessary side story stuff that, by the end, serves for the introduction of an unnecessary side-kick, and the list goes on.
On the other hand, there are also some good, resounding moments, like anytime we see Rosaria (Marta Gastini) while she’s under the influence of a demon. Her performance is uninhibited and makes the horror of demonic possession feel real.
It was also intriguing to see a depiction of the behind-the-scenes tactital response of the Vatican when faced with an increase in supernatural ability. The exorcists being trained are treated like a Special Ops detail, willing to deal with the stuff that normal people can’t.
The Rite takes all of the ingredients of an exorcism movie, shakes them up, and is able to present them in a more original way. But, they are still the same ingredients, and the oven they used must be on the fritz because, even though you can tell what is trying to be accomplished, The Rite just doesn’t quite get there.