What do you believe? Why do you believe it? In the case of religion, we have faith that there is a purpose for our lives, that there is a meaning to it all and ultimately, that there is reward or consequences.
In short, we hope.
Hope is an emotional Schrödinger’s Cat that sits in its box until we open it and find the true gift: proof. Some people, however, are simply content to wait and wonder, fearing the knowledge that proof might bring.
The latest effort from filmmaker Mikael Håfström (“1408”) introduces us to Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), the son of a mortician who is being prepped to continue this family business. That is not the life he wants for himself, so as a means of “escape”, he joins the priesthood. He figures he can get a four-year education and then decide against taking his vows at the end of it. It seems like a good plan and on the eve of his ordination, he passes his resignation along to the Father Superior. That’s when he finds out that if he chooses to quit, his education will come due to the tune of about $100,000 in student loans. He’s handed another option, though – attend a month-long course in exorcism in Rome. Father Superior sees promise in him and he thinks that training as an exorcist might change his skeptical mind. While in Rome, he meets Angeline (Alice Braga), a reporter doing a story on the course. She seems drawn to his skepticism, but this same cynicism also draws the attention of his instructor, who sends him to an experienced exorcist, Father Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) for some real-world experience with spiritual warfare.
“The Rite”, like most January fare, is not a great movie. It is, however, a much better vehicle for Hopkins than his last foray in to January horror (“The Wolfman”). In the hands of an experienced and capable horror director in Håfström, we get more than just gloss and empty shadows. Given that we are dealing with the dubious world of spirits and exorcisms, Håfström gives the movie a feeling that straddles the mundane and the fantastic. He gets plenty of help from his cast. O’Donoghue is solid as the unbelieving young aspirant. Braga also does well as the inquiring journalist and non-love interest.
And now, here’s the part where I’m going to upset a bunch of people.
I don’t think I liked Anthony Hopkins in this.
Sad but true. Even though he did his usually very good job of playing the mentor, there were just some parts of the film where I felt like some of his direction was just, “For this part, just give me some Hannibal Lector.” At that point, I stopped seeing Father Trevant and started seeing Hopkins aping old roles and trotting them out again like a show pony. Could just be me, but that’s the impression I took away from it.
I liked the movie as a whole. They did a good job of creating likable, interesting and believable characters; though there were times I thought they took the “skeptic” act a bit too far. They may also have borrowed just a little too much from “The Exorcist” playbook (old priest, young priest, crisis of faith, etc…). To a casual moviegoer, it probably won’t be a big deal, but to a genre fan, the tropes stick out like an angry pimple. What bothered me most though was how many times I caught the film shamelessly trying to manipulate me. While every movie does this – that’s how we suspend our disbelief, after all – this one was way too obvious and ham-handed about it.
“The Rite” is a perfectly serviceable horror/thriller doing its darnedest to nose its way above other mid-winter fare. It’s certainly not a bad way to spend a Friday night.
At least, one can hope…