2 March 2011

THE RITE- Review

"Spinning heads and pea soup" sounds almost like a Dr. Seuss story about exorcism, but it's an SFX cliche made famous by The Exorcist, which is arguably the finest film ever made on the subject, and name-checked in The Rite, which is decidedly less memorable. However, it does boast a supporting turn from the venerable Sir Anthony Hopkins, even if it's actually a film about the continuing adventures of the world's worst priest.

The rubbish cleric in question is Michael, a young man who comes up with quite a flawed scheme to enrol in a seminary to study for the priesthood and gain a scholarship for a top-notch education. He plans to flout his commitment once his education is done, but doesn't realise that even the Catholic Church isn't that dumb. So with potentially crippling financial payback looming over his head, he's assigned to the eccentric Father Lucas Trevant, one of the church's veteran exorcists.

Early on in The Rite, I realised that there was more of Father Ted in here than there was of The Exorcist. That "spinning heads and pea soup" line would be fine if screenwriter Michael Petroni had anything new up his sleeve, but he has nothing we didn't see six months ago in The Last Exorcism, a superior and still rather underrated film. I could entirely enjoy a film that was Father Ted meets The Exorcist, but to be honest, the unintentional humour that kept me going in this film wasn't that funny.

It also claims to be based on true events right at the beginning, only to backtrack minutes later in the opening credits, which tells us that the film is "suggested by the book by Matt Baglio". After a raft of truly excellent films based on true stories, like The King's Speech and The Fighter, this seems poorly timed, making it tantamount to calling Donnie Darko a true story because it was "suggested" by A Brief History of Time. Here was me thinking that horror films had graduated from "based on a true story" scare-mongering, onto the less condescending model of Blair Witchery and found-footage constructions.

But let's be frank- I cannot conceive the idea of a single person being frightened by The Rite. Truthfully, there is nothing in it that is frightening. I speak, of course, from the standpoint of an atheist, but if you're scared of the Devil, that idea of evil and demonic possession has been done elsewhere, and so much better. This film runs to 114 minutes, and really has little to show for it except for the notion of an exorcism as a palliative in an ongoing battle against Satanic infestation.

The major problem is the casting of Colin O'Donoghue in the role of Michael. He's no Patrick Fabian, that's for sure, and so there's not much in the way of attachment to his character. As a leading man, he's continually shown up by co-stars Toby Jones and CiarĂ¡n Hinds, which might explain why they're both relegated to parts that really could have been cut, to tighten up a film that is way too long. In particular, it's a shame to see Toby Jones doing so little, because he's a fantastic actor who disappears after the rambling and unnecessary first act.

Anthony Hopkins gets the run of the production, really. He's top-billed, and his face is on the poster, and rightly so because he's easily the best thing about this. He plays Father Lucas as a showman, but one who still believes in the battle he is fighting. It comes back to that notion of the palliative exorcism, instilling a belief in the possessed person that they are winning the battle, and to do that, Hopkins exudes the confidence of an eccentric uncle. Later in the film, he's given the opportunity to really exercise his skills as an actor. He refuses to phone it in, and this film really reminded me of what a good actor he is.

Hopkins' performance is a bright spot in The Rite, which has to be seen as a failure on a basic level because it's not scary in any way, shape or form. However, many sites seem to list the film's genre as mystery or thriller, on which merits it would be slightly more of a success. It's quite an ungainly effort that doesn't really deploy the interesting notion of palliative exorcisms as effectively as it could have done. The humour might be unintentional, but coupled with Anthony Hopkins, it makes this overlong sermon just about watchable.

The Rite is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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