For lovers of the sinister

2011-03-14 00:00

SITTING down on a Saturday morning to watch a movie about exorcism isn’t really my idea of fun. Mind you, not at any time is this really a chosen pastime. Ultimately The Rite as a supernatural psychological thriller resolves itself amicably, but it spends most of the time wallowing in the mire of, well, the demonic.

At the core of the story is Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), whose crisis of faith has led him to submit his resignation from the priesthood. But his mentor, Father Matthew (Toby Jones), recommends him for a special programme in Italy. He reluctantly goes, struggling along the way with the fact that he doesn’t believe in God, the devil or the demons that supposedly possess the unwary and unfortunate. This leads to his meeting with master exorcist Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins). Shadowed by a journalist (Alice Braga) seeking “the truth”, Kovak learns that some of Father Lucas’s methods are little more than parlour tricks, and that simply not believing in the devil and demons doesn’t keep him safe.

The first half of The Rite is taken up with the opposition between rational and supernatural explanations for seemingly demonic possession. Kovak believes everything he sees can be explained by science and medicine. When challenged by Father Lucas, he has an answer for nearly every question. But since this is a horror movie, we’re soon into the realm of the spooks, and this aspect of the storyline holds some interest while it lasts.

The film achieves a tension between the horror that lies below the surface of human interaction and the dialogue between the human characters and the voices of the underworld. When he eventually appears, the demon Baal engages in a duel of wits with the would-be exorcist, attempting to undermine his faith in God and himself. The lack of a physical confrontation ramps up the level of tension. Unfortunately, it dissolves rather conventionally, which doesn’t altogether ruin the movie, but it makes for a generic resolution.

Anthony Hopkins is in typically matter-of-fact mode, even as the possessed priest, but nonetheless is in a class of his own. His co-star, Colin O’Donaghue, whose career has been spent mostly in Irish television, is a bit too forlorn throughout for us to care too deeply about the character, but it’s an obvious step-up for the young actor into big-budget movies. The supporting cast offers respected character actors Toby Jones and Ciaran Hinds. Alice Braga as the investigating journalist offers relief from the testosterone overload, but she doesn’t have much to do.

Ultimately, the atmosphere is strong, but it doesn’t all quite click. If you’re into the dark and sinister, it’s a different outing to a film like The Exorcist. If you’d rather sleep easy at night, stay clear. **

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