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Movie Review: 'The Rite' falls short of similar film 'The Exorcist'

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“The Rite”
Directed by: Mikael Håfström
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Ciaran Hinds, Alice Braga
Rated: PG-13
 
I'm not much at proclaiming absolutes when it comes to movies. I'd be hard pressed to make a Top 10 list, much less an all-time favorite. Same with nearly every genre. I can't really name my favorite comedy, drama, action film or even “bad” movie (although “Battlefield Earth” would be a good candidate.)

But when it comes to scary movies, I've had the same one at the top of my list since I first saw it in 1973. “The Exorcist” creeped me out and still does. I think it's because this kind of scary scenario could actually happen.

The latest entry in the “demon possession/extreme psychosis” film sub-genre of  horror is Swedish director Mikael Håfström's “The Rite.”

Just as “The Exorcist” was based on real life events, “The Rite,” as we are told in the opening credits, is “inspired” by true events and the screenplay was “suggested” by Matt Baglio’s book, “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist.”

That's two degrees of separation from reality, but we get two tidbits in the closing credits telling us about what the two main characters are doing in real life today.

The producers of “The Rite” are not novices at this type of movie. They brought us 2005's “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” which has been cited by priests familiar with the rite of exorcism as being more realistic than “The Exorcist.”

Colin O’Donoghue plays Michael Kovak, a catholic who has lost his faith. Despite that, he is going to enter the seminary rather than stay around helping his father in the family mortuary business. He tells his buddy that he's going to school on the church's dime and after getting an education, he'll admit a lapse of faith and bow out of becoming a priest. It's a good, if somewhat cynical, plan.

At school he shows promise in nearly all of his classes, especially psychology.
He falls short in one class: religious studies. That seems to be a fairly important one for a would-be priest. The Father Superior at the school, noticing Michael's excellence in psychology, urges his student to consider becoming a priest specializing in exorcism. That's an occupation I would wager is not high on anyone's list of career choices - especially ones made by lapsed catholics.

The priest decides to send Michael to Rome to attend a Vatican course on the history and practice of exorcism. Michael isn't thrilled, but it's a free trip to Rome.

While attending the course, he meets another skeptic, Angela, who he finds is actually a journalist going undercover for a story on the rituals of exorcism.

He also meets the Rev. Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a Welsh priest whose “methods are quite unorthodox,” Michael is told. Lucas has performed hundreds of exorcisms and is still in practice. On Michael's first visit, Lucas  makes him tag along for a visit with pregnant teen Rosaria. The girl might b epossessed by demons, or simply psychotic as Michael believes.

During future visits, Lucas and Michael attend to Rosaria and other seemingly possessed people. One is a young boy who claims a red-eyed mule lives in his body and tells him to kill himself. The boy's mother lifts his shirt to show several horseshoe-shaped bruises on her son.

Things get more weird with each session, and Michael finds that his lapse of faith is, in itself, lapsing. He has seen things he can't explain, and the possessed have said things pertaining to him that they could not possibly have known.

Having one's lack of faith shaken must be even more disturbing than having one's faith shaken.

The weird occurrences continue, including a small plague of frogs.

There are many scenes reminiscent - in theory anyway - of “The Exorcist” including the fact that an exorcised demon finds a home in one of the main characters. The outcome in “The Rite” is quite different than it was in “The Exorcist,” however.

Hopkins is sufficiently intense (and at times low-key creepy) as he incorporates traits from Hannibal Lector (who was soft-spoken and mannered, despite being a cannibal) and  Corky Withers, his demented ventriloquist in “Magic.”

While not really in the same league as “The Exorcist,” “The Rite” is a good film in this genre and provides a few jolts and lots of creepy (not bloody) images.[[In-content Ad]]

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