More suited to Sunday school sermonizing than supernatural cinema, The Rite is a cautionary exorcism outing into targeting doubters in the theaters along with any up on the screen. Closer to documentary in its approach than make-believe mysticism, The Rite presumptuously intrudes into nonbeliever audience secular comfort zones, and is pretty much an alarmist downer following in the cloven footsteps of The Da Vinci Code.
Pronouncing its more serious than imaginative intent from the start, The Rite solemnly declares that what you are about to behold is based on true events. Not sure whether this is meant to keep unfocused viewers in line, or intimidate movie critics into dispensing glowing reviews in order to ward Lucifer away, or maybe a bit of both.
In any case, the story begins at a seriously creepy funeral home, where Dad the mortician (Rutger Hauer) tends to the dead and paints the fingernails of female corpses bright red, while his mute and traumatized son Michael looks on. Years later, Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) is an aspiring priest at a seminary school, who disappoints his father by not following him in the embalming biz. But when Michael begins to doubt his own faith and decides to drop out, his theological mentor (Toby Jones) prescribes just the cure by packing him off to Rome to take exorcism classes at the Vatican. Huh?
When Michael ruffles feathers at the school by insisting that the demonic possession of those who show up for treatment are badly in need of a shrink instead, he’s assigned as an apprentice to Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an eccentric Welsh free lance exorcist. A weatherman of sorts as well who can predict rain on a sunny day, Father Lucas scolds his intern – and by extension the audience – along the lines that opting to not believe in the devil will not protect him.
And Michael is soon witness to unexplained frightening episodes of demonic possession exhibited by afflicted subjects seeking help from Father Lucas. Including hokey stuff like suspect feline pets, a satanic mule, and armies of invading locusts that seem like they may have escaped from Geiko commercials. And eventually the unfortunate exorcist, no longer able to decipher rite from wrong, is himself possessed, possibly turning back into Hannibal Lecter for the duration. Though in this case begging to be locked up for his own good, rather than involuntarily incarcerated.
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom (1408), scripted by Michael Petroni (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys) and based on the book written by Matt Baglio about Chicago exorcist Father Gary Thomas, The Rite stirs up sufficiently ominous occult atmosphere for this theological buddy movie. Which would have worked to hyper-chilling effect, had the production just not have taken itself so seriously.
In other words, the power of suggestion instead of possession would have been the way to go in this takes-one-to-know-one satanic scenario. And with the audience not being made to feel like they’re the ones in need of exorcism instead of the characters, as they depart the theater looking over their shoulders.