Having veteran and award-winning actor Anthony Hopkins lead the cast of The Rite suggests this film might be more than the run-of-the mill horror flick. Hopkins certainly has cemented his ability to create the creep factor in his role as the depraved Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs and its sequels. And even this movie’s opening scenes offer the promise of a suspenseful mind game. Yet that potential doesn’t last for long.
Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds) teaches the rite of exorcism at the Vatican. But one of his students, Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), is clearly skeptical. To shore up the floundering faith of the young priest, Father Xavier sends him to visit Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), a well-known exorcist who has performed the ritual thousands of times. During Michael’s first visit, Father Lucas recites the religious prayer over a young, pregnant 16-year-old (Marta Gastini) who has been raped by her father.
Michael suspects her ordeal may have as much to do with the girl’s mental disturbances as her supposed demonic possession. He also distrusts the hoof-shaped bruises all over the body of a young boy Lucas is called to visit. Yet despite his misgivings about the old man’s practices, Michael can’t seem to keep himself from returning to the rundown and cat-invested abode of the aging Father who seems eager to have the young priest accept the reality of the devil.
However all too soon the film loses its focus on the spiritual uncertainty of the young seminary student who grew up in a mortuary and now questions the existence of both the devil and God. Instead the script slides unceremoniously into the predictable ploys of the genre. Rainy nights, fleeting images, sinister sounds and an orchestrated score that becomes increasingly ominous all prepare audiences for occasional jump scenes. Other disturbing images, including bloody accident victims, grotesque bodily contortions (enhanced by computer animation) and the vomiting of large nails, provide the inevitable gore.
While predictable, these often-graphic depictions may raise a different concern for parents of teens. Michael challenges the defining line between mental illness and demonic possession. For adolescents suffering from feelings of isolation or depression, it may be a hard line to recognize as well, especially if they are inclined to dabble in satanic practices. Equally unsettling for young viewers may be fiendish images and the dangerous portrayal of innocent or abused children losing their souls to the devil.
Unfortunately the film also fails to engage adult audiences in a way that leaves them just a little bit leery to leave the theater. And even Sir Anthony’s contributions as the bedeviled exorcist can’t redeem this horror movie from becoming a ritualistic re-enactment of a plot we’ve seen time and time again.