Friday, October 7, 2011

The Rite (2011)

Title: The Rite (2011)

Director: Mikael Hafstrom

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Rutger Hauer, Alice Braga, Colin O’Donoghue


The Rite is a film that wants to remind you that faith is important, and that you should never loose it. It wants to let you know that “not believing in the devil does not protect you from him”. Barf; whatever! Spread that fear why don’t you! In yet another attempt at addressing the issue of exorcisms, once again, they’ve gone and made this film that, though well made, feels like an onslaught of clichés seen in other exorcism films. And speaking of films about exorcisms, there’s been a lot of them! Though most of them are hardly convincing, yet they keep getting made. And they keep hitting us with cliché after cliché. For example: is it just me or is every single priest on these films always loosing his faith? Is it me or is the ‘possesed’ person always bed ridden? And does the final exorcism in the film always take place with the possessed tied to a bed or something? Like I said, clichés. So here comes yet another entry into the exorcism films sub-genre, how was it?

It wasn’t all that bad. First off, the film is very well shot and directed, technically speaking, it’s a solid film. Its tone is a deadly serious one, it doesn’t come off as goofy or anything like some exorcism films do. On this one we meet young Michael Kovak the son of a mortician, who by the way is played by Rutger Hauer. A bit underused if you ask me, but hey it's always a pleasure to see Mr. Hauer on screen! Will somebody give Hauer more roles that are worth a damn? Pretty please with vanilla on top? So anyways, on this family you are either a mortician or a priest, and so young Michael Kovak has decided to become a priest. Though to be honest, he really doesn’t seem to be the priest type. You see, Michael Kovak is a young man with very little to no faith at all. But he goes to priest school none the less and becomes a priest. Weird thing is that just as he is about to send an e-mail saying he doesn’t want to be a priest and that he is giving up on the whole thing, a priest decides to send Michael to Rome to train himself in the ways of  exorcism. Michael accepts the offer, willingly giving the whole faith thing one more try. Will Michael see anything that will convince him of the existence of the supernatural? Will Michael’s faith ever return?

The Rite is very similar to The Last Exorcism (2010) because it is also about a faithless priest who doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He thinks that possessed people are very disturbed people whose perception of things have been altered by all their religious beliefs. I enjoyed that about the film, how the character Michael Kovak serves as a means to voice the plea of the Unbeliever, same as the priest character in The Last Exorcism. For most of the film you’ll find Michael Kovak saying things like “It gets complicated when proof of the devil is no proof of the devil” Right on brother! He hit the nail on the head as far as faith goes; at the root of the matter is believing in things that you cant proof or see.  

My take on these kinds of films is that they are no longer scary, audiences just don’t get as spooked as they used to by these films. It could be the ever growing number of non-believers out there; it could be that people know too much about how films are made and nothing amazes them anymore, so the illusion and magic behind the whole thing is no longer there. We got dvd special features to thank for that. The Last Exorcism for example was a successful film, but only because it cost about 2 million dollars to make. Had it cost more, it might have flopped. Case in point: The Rite which cost 37 million dollars but only made 33 million in the U.S. It came and it went from theaters without much of a fuzz. To the world, it was just another horror movie. No big deal. In comparison, when The Exorcist (1973) was first released, people passed out while watching the movie, people walked out of theaters because they couldn’t take what they were seeing. It was an experience to watch; an event. This latest exorcism movie  (The Rite)  failed to capture the attention and imaginations of the audience. This was not a ‘shit in your pants’ scary film, but did it work on any level?

Well, I did enjoy the fact that the film didn’t come off as hokey, the way a lot of these films do turn out. It seems to me that for The Rite they were trying to do a film that wasn’t exactly a horror film. They were apparently trying to do a realistic depiction in the life of an exorcist, so goofy it aint. This is the kind of film that the catholic church would be proud of.  A good example of a goofy exorcism film is Lost Souls (2000) with Wynona Ryder and even goofier was The Unborn (2009), if you want to see a laugh inducing exorcism sequence check that one out. The Rite made an effort to make things a bit more credible and authentic. A lot of that could have something to do with the fact that the film is based on a book called The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio. In preparation to write his book, Mr. Baglio actually went to the Vatican for a seminar on exorcism. There he met Father Gary Thomas, the actual person on which the character of Michael Kovak is based on. In addition to that,  director Mikael Hafstrom actually went to a couple of ‘real life exorcisms’, a couple of which he heard from afar because they wouldn’t allow him to see them. So there is a level of authenticity to the film.

But when it comes right down to it, no matter how ‘authentic’ the film is, there’s no such thing as the supernatural. No one has ever seen the things that happen on these exorcism  films in real life. All these priests have seen in their ‘exorcisms’ is people screaming, and twisting and cursing profusely, but supernatural events? Real life supernatural activities that we could see with our own eyes or document with a video camera? Nope; never happened. Don’t you think if these supernatural events ever really happened a priest would have already caught something on tape? Or on their cell phones? Yet no actual evidence of the supernatural exists outside of a couple of hoax pictures that somebody altered on Photoshop in their home computers. Still, films that are ‘based on real life’ try and make us believe that events such as these actually occured. To that I say ‘phooey!’  Of course, if ask the catholic church they’ll tell  you that they loved the movie. And loved it they did, the catholic church gave this one glowing reviews. They loved it as much as they loved The Exorcist. Why? Because these films spread their fantasies around, and after all that’s all the church really wants, to dig themselves deeper into peoples consciousness.

What we got here ladies and gents is a decent exorcism picture. It is well photographed and acted, the locations are beautiful looking (most of it was shot in Hungaria) and the visual effects are decent. It plays everything deadly serious, not a smile to be seen. These characters seem to really believe that they are dealing demons, or perhaps even Satan himself? Oooh spooky! Everything is augmented by Anthony Hopkins performance, and may I send kudos his way for throwing himself so completely into this physically demanding role. This film is one big catholic fantasy brought to life in the only way that in can be brought to life, through the wonderful alternate universe of movies. And as such, it works. I thought it needed a few more creeps and scares, but the ending is really what it’s all about with this movie. Stick all the way to the end, for the big exorcism scene, it’s worth it.    

Rating: 3 1/2


Anonymous said...

I've kind of wanted to see this one for awhile now. I dig a good possession flick. But I haven't felt really compelled to do so. I might get around to it eventually.

Check out Exorcismus: The Possession of Emma Evans. It completely turns the notion of a possession flick on it's head AND the priest just so happens to record everything. But you're shocked when you find out WHY he's actually recording the exorcisms. It's currently streaming on Netflix instant.

Sam Fragoso said...

I initially had some interest in seeing this one. However, the negative reviews kept pouring in and time passed.

Perhaps I'll give it a go.

Franco Macabro said...

@Planet of Terror: I put this one off for a while as well POT, exorcism movies just arent that innovative in my opinion, they all end up the same way and so a truly original one is hard to find. The Rite isnt all that original either, but it's well made and 'credible'. Also, Hopkins makes things more watchable.

Thanks for the suggestion on Exorcismus, I will try and get my hands on it.

@Duke: It isnt the most original film in the world, and it feels like Catholic propaganda, spreading the fear amongst the populace, but it's watchable.

Thanks for commenting!

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I need only write two words - Rutger Hauer.

Franco Macabro said...

I was surprised to see him in there! It was a minor role, but an important one.


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