Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – The Rite

My notes on the dreary exorcism movie. 

Here’s another fudge of a based-on-fact exorcism movie – it’s the kind of film where the capital Ts in the opening titles grow into crucifixes, and earnest debate about faith and theology is trotted out between the knee-jerk scare scenes to cloud the fact that the story just doesn’t make sense.  Based on Matt Baglio’s non-fiction book about a seminar for trainee exorcists held by the Vatican to react to the apparent increase in demonic possession since The Exorcist came out in 1973, it hokes things up with the usual lifts from the source of its sub-genre as a two-fisted, brooding young doubter in a surplice teams up with an experienced, eccentric older priest for a battle with a demon who needs to be pressed to give his name (it’s Baal).  Seminarian Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) even has Karras-like family guilts, when he’s not at the death-bed of his mortician father (Rutger Hauer) – the Icelandic volcano does some of the Devil’s work here – while shambling old Welsh veteran Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) is a fund of wisdom but needs to step aside so the youngster can earn his demon-busting spurs.  Here, Baal bothers a young girl impregnated by an absent father (ultimately killing her and her unborn baby), then latches onto a fragile lad who takes him for a red-eyed mule and has hoofmarks to show it before entering Lucas – which makes him walk barefoot on a roof and slap a child – and challenging Michael to a final tussle.


As is often the case in spiritually-inclined horror films, God, the Devil and the script work in mysterious ways.  Michael’s decision to quit seminary is put on hold by an Omen bit with a blown-away umbrella and a woman fatally run over in the street, prompting Michael to administer the last rites: this poor extra is required to lay down her life to keep the hero on his Robert McKee-approved journey.  The basic thrust of the plot is that the demon, by shouting and performing conspicuous acts of plainly supernatural malignity, turns Michael from a near-atheist who would be happy to quit the priesthood, pay back his student loan and find an alternate vocation going down on foxy barladies (and who’s to say that’s not a worthy career path?) into a committed soldier of the church who’s going to spend the rest of his life kicking demons around while chanting Latin.  This could be a clever plot point, if the film took a Book of Job approach and cast the Devil as God’s harshest servant, pushing the hero to the point where he has to side with the Almighty – with a coda in which we see that the head of the exorcism course (Ciaran Hinds) has commanded Baal all along.  As it is, it’s just nonsense – in the early stages, where Lucas keeps saying that the demon will pretend not to be there, we have a more convincing cat and mouse set-up (oh, yes, there are lots of cats in the film for some reason), but the finale, which depends on the hero not being able to find any more qualified priests in Rome, is the usual exorcism movie encounter-group-in-a-dark-room-with-chanting session.


As always in straitened circumstances, Hopkins slices the ham thick and might be having a high old time – he’s not as much fun here as in The Wolfman, but he’s the only thing (except Alice Braga’s pixie smile) that keeps you watching.  Directed by Mikael Hafstrom, from a script by Michael Petroni.  Producers Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson also made the pernicious The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a far more offensive based-on-a-true-story exorcism horror.


Here’s a trailer.


One thought on “Film review – The Rite

  1. Myra Çakan OMG Wasn’t there a time when Anthony Hopkins was a good actor? Must have been in a far far away paralel universe…

    Ben Hell He was pretty good in Magic. A looong time ago.

    Chris Cooke There was a time when Hafstrom could direct! Hollywood insists on getting interesting filmmakers large paychecks and encouraging them to make generic, obvious, rubbish films.

    Julian White It’s getting to the point where there must be more exorcism movies than historically documented exorcisms.

    Kevin Redfern I’m guessing we get the Hannibal Lecter panto villain creepy voice at some point. Ho hum. At least THE LAST EXORCISM had an interesting concept, in with the jump scares and lack of proper scary atmosphere… At least it can’t be as bad as the Italian EXORCIST III I saw way back in the 90s, can it? CAN IT??

    Chris Cooke Those sleazy, over-the-top, gory, loud, Italian Exorcist knock-offs were at least honest.

    Kevin Redfern True. I’ve never been so confused in all my life, though. Had no idea what the hell was going on…

    Chris Cooke Kevin – that confusion sounds like fun though! This film sounds like a terrible one. I still preferred the amusing THE UNHOLY starring Ben Cross – at least the priest had a dilemma instead of a Robert McKee template for a narrative.

    Steve Bray It’s ok to follow McKee’s advice, or any other smart story guru, if you do it properly. What happens too often is that people cut corners and do half the job. Decent set-up, interesting premise but no bl**dy idea how to end it in a satisfying or coherent way?

    Kevin Redfern Is it wrong that the only exorcism movies I’ve enjoyed since Friedkin’s masterpiece have been the opening ten minutes of SCARY MOVIE 2 (funniest thing James Woods has EVER done, including VAMPIRE$) and REPOSSESSED, in which Linda Blair is just excellent and thoroughly in on the joke. Personally I think the genre is done – it’s over and gone. There’s an interesting take on evangelical deliverance ministry I think, but whoever writes it won’t be able to keep from the two paths you’d need to avoid to make it truly original, which are (1) Resist the temptation to make yet another all-religion-is-EVIL rant-based movie, and be even-handed between the believers and non-believers, and (2) Stay well away from ANYHING that resembles THE EXORCIST, including all the diabolical manifestations. No-one’s quite got it right since, and maybe they never will.

    Kevin Redfern I did very much enjoy Joe Ahearne’s APPARITIONS, and although I thought the ending lost its way a bit, it DID have a fantastically frightening atmosphere – the most scared I’ve been of a Beeb series since Stephen Volk’s masterpiece GHOSTWATCH, so kudos for that.

    Kim Newman Requiem, the film actually based on the case Emily Rose says it’s based on, pretty much ends the exorcism cycle for me.

    Kevin Redfern If it’s anywhere near as disturbing as the supposedly-real audio doing the rounds on the internet of a REAL Annalise Michel exorcism (supposedly one of the later ones) then I’ll watch it. What’s most distressing is, it’s still not clear whether Annalise was possessed or just mentally ill, but whichever it was, the ‘help’ she was given was shockingly badly handled.

    Kevin Redfern Just looked up REQUIEM – looks very even-handed about the case. Will have to give that a watch…

    Chris Cooke Requiem… that’s a great film – moving, disturbing, grim, frightening and real. Spoke to Paul Fraser a while ago, who directs his own stuff as well as writes with Shane Meadows and he told me they had an Exorcism film in development… everyone does.

    Steve Bray Different aims though. ‘The Rite’ is a Friday night (or Saturday night) film to take a date to and jump together (oo-err) in the darkened theatre. ‘Requiem’ really isn’t going to sell a lot of popcorn.

    Chris Cooke Requiem would make a great ‘lets split up’ film though.

    Steve Bray I’m not so sure. Sometimes it’s better the devil you know…? 😉

    Gordon Shippey Do any so-called ‘true’ life Ghost stories make sense?

    Zanda Myrande As much as any other part of “true” life. Only fiction has to make sense…

    Gordon Shippey I always knew Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was true! lol ; )

    Zanda Myrande I didn’t say fiction *always* made sense!

    Gordon Shippey I know it was a joke ; ) lol

    Posted by kimnewman | June 23, 2017, 12:40 pm

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