Movie review – Catholic chills and thrills to grip you

2011-03-12 12:42

Film: The Rite (Nu Metro)
Director: Mikael Håfström
Featuring: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciarán Hinds and Toby Jones
Rating: 6/10

Good demon possession thrillers are few and far between. The last really good one was The Exorcism of Emily Rose. As cerebral as it was creepy, it took the mystical rite of exorcism into the courtroom. Before that I can’t remember one that really creeped me out – the remakes of both The Omen and The Amityville Horror were yawns. The original Omen, however, with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick was scary enough to keep any narcoleptic awake.

The Rite keeps the ritual firmly in the realm of the Catholic Church – in a back alley in Rome. Like Emily Rose, this film is loosely based on a true story and relies on imagination to raise the hair on the back of the audience’s collective neck. The makers avoid the extremes of The Exorcist, which keeps this film from slipping into mindless horror.

Michael Kovak, played by Colin O’Donoghue, is an undertaker’s son, but he’s done with ministering to the dead so he joins a seminary to get an education and escape the mortuary.

His plan is to ditch the priesthood before he has to take his vows, but he’s thwarted by his teacher, who insists he takes a course in exorcism at the Vatican before throwing in the collar.

Once in Rome, his lack of faith and scepticism are hard to hide. Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds) arranges for him to get some hands-on exorcism experience with Father Lucas Trevant, played by Anthony Hopkins. Trevant is a kindly priest who goes about his work in a matter-of-fact way, sure of himself as a saver of souls.

Kovak finds his faith further tested by the pregnant 16-year-old who Trevant is treating. Is the old priest taking advantage of a fragile mind? Is he misinterpreting the signs of psychological trauma as possession?

As Kovak and Trevant engage in these debates, Kovak finds himself more and more unsure of what he believes and Trevant’s take is: Not believing in the devil doesn’t save you from him.

The thing about demon possession films is that they need the pomp and ceremony of the Catholic Church as a backdrop. It adds the right sense of history and gives the ritual gravitas. There must be rosaries, holy water, leather-bound Bibles and frankincense to scare the demon off. Can you imagine one of those priests in a pair of jeans with a guitar trying to drive out a thousand-year-old demon?

Mikael Håfström, who previously directed Stephen King’s 1408 and Derailed, dovetails horror and thriller to make a thoroughly enjoyable film about two men facing their fears.

More than that though, The Rite is a damn good scare flick for those who like their frights more sophisticated than Saw 7. There’s also a good old-fashioned twist or two in the tale for good measure.

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