How can one believe in something that they have no proof of? This is a question that has consistently banged around in my head for the near entirety of my adult life. It is also a central theme of the new exorcism film, “The Rite” from Swedish director, Mikael Hafstrom (1408) .
Colin O’Donoghue plays Michael Kovac, a young seminarian who uses the Church to get a four-year college degree and then has a mock crisis of faith and attempts to leave. Before he can leave the seminary though he is convinced to take a course in exorcism in Rome. It is there that Kovac meets Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an old unorthodox exorcist that deals with allegations of possession on a daily basis.
Father Lucas is working with a young local woman who allegedly has been possessed by a demon and Kovac becomes interested in the process Father Lucas goes through. Kovac questions Father Lucas on every aspect, trying to find a logical explanation for why the woman may be acting the way she is. As Kovac and Father Lucas sit talking after a session with the woman, Father Lucas tells Kovac that we spend all out lives searching for proof but we never ask ourselves what will we do if we actually find it.
It is obvious, rather early on, that Kovac is going to get the proof he seeks and that he will have to come to terms with his doubt if he plans on surviving. But “The Rite” is not a film that is here to shock and scare you, Father Lucas tells Kovac early on that there is no pea soup here and it never attempts to be “The Exorcist”. I balk at even calling “The Rite” a horror film because the exorcism is just an aspect of the spiritual journey Kovac is on in the film. That is not to say the Hafstom is not able to load up the film with some frightening and shocking imagery but it is more a character drama with horror as the subtext.
Unfortunately “The Rite” is being sold as a horror film and the perception of the film in the general public is that it is a horror film, thus people are going to be disappointed in it. Personally I think that is a shame because “The Rite” has some wonderful performances, some excellent cinematography and a story that kept me interested. It also does a great job at humanizing the Church. “The Rite” does not take sides and instead views the Catholic Church from a neutral stance. Rarely in films does one see priests portrayed as actual people who may question their faith from time to time due to events that happen in the world but “The Rite” not only does that but does it well.
When it comes down to it though, “The Rite” is not going to be what genre fans have been waiting for. It is not the next coming of “The Exorcist”, nor is it on the same scare level as last year’s “The Last Exorcism”. If you can temper your expectations though it is a well made movie with a strong, if somewhat safe, examination of character.
3 out of 5.