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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Rite

Another week, another review from Channel24. This time, a horror movie that is disappointing in and of itself but a breath of fresh air after crap like Night Drive. 

From (Originally published 10 March 2011)

What it's about:
Michael Kovack (Colin O'Donoghue) is mere months away from taking his final priestly vows but he is racked by doubt about his path in life and the very religion he serves. As a way of trying to rekindle his faith, he is sent by his teacher to study exorcism in Rome under Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), where he is forced to confront things that will shake his faith to its very foundations.

What we thought:

The Rite is one of those films that is difficult to review because so much of what's right and wrong about the film lies in specific developments in the plot that I would rather not give away. What you need to know is this though: it is a film of two halves, one that is very much defined by doubt, the other by certainty. Saying much more than that will give away the moment in the middle of the movie on which the two halves hinge but the result is a film that ultimately never quite lives up to its initial promise.

What I can say, though, is this: the second half of the movie is actually fairly solid, above average horror that is simply miles above the sort of torture-porn crap that has been clogging our cinemas more and more with each passing year. It's just a pity then that it goes some way to undermine the much more ambiguous, much more intriguing first half of the film by turning its back on psychological horror for something that is far more explicit and ordinary. That it is apparently "based on a true story" (yeah right!) only makes the second half of the film all that more difficult to swallow. 

I still have no problem mildly recommending the film to all proper-horror-starved audiences, it's just such a pity that it suffocates most of its many strengths in its final act. Even if The Rite was never truly destined to be a classic on the level of The Exorcist – a film that it clearly owes its existence to – the first two acts of the film are good enough to at least merit the film favourable comparisons to William Friedkin's classic. 

For a start, the performances are uniformly excellent. Toby Jones, Rutger Hauer, Marta Gastini and Alice Braga are very fine as supporting players in what is mostly a two-man show. Anthony Hopkins does go all over-the-top sinister towards the end – and he is very, very good at that – but before that he is given the chance to bring a gravity, a dry sense of humour and large dollops of complexity to his veteran exorcist character, Father Lucas Trevant. Relative newcomer Colin O'Donoghue is even more impressive as he goes toe-to-toe with one of cinema's great actors and delivers a performance that is every bit as complicated, assured and powerful.

No less important though is Swedish director Mikael Håfström, whose direction has all the trademarks of the best that the horror genre has to offer. While he's good with the hysterical tones of the film's disappointing finale, he truly impresses with the parts of the film that allows him to bring out all the creepiness and mounting tension of the uncertain world that our hero suddenly finds himself trapped in. Better yet, he does all this while perfectly evoking the mix of scepticism, religious uncertainty and self-doubt that the drives his characters.    
And it's the loss of that very self-doubt that lets the film down. By wrapping the film up far too neatly and far too, well, explicitly Christian, Håfström has condemned The Rite to a disappointing near miss rather than the near-classic it could have been.

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