Saturday, 5 March 2011

Film #26 The Rite

Another year, another exorcism film. Reclaiming exorcism from the Baptists (remember last year's OK-ish The Last Exorcism?) we travel from the US to Rome with hunky young Catholic seminary graduate Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue), who despite his wavering faith is learning how to cast out demons the good old-fashioned way (i.e. with a tall priest and a short priest, one of whom should have been a boxer). He is advised to meet veteran Welsh exorcist Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) while in Rome and, on doing so, witnesses the processes of exorcism in practice. However, following a tragic event Father Lucas begins exhibiting signs of posession himself (not a spoiler, by the way, as it's in the trailer), forcing Michael to make some serious decisions about his faith.

Anthony Hopkins is good and surprisingly un-hammy (to begin with at least; the last twenty minutes are purest acorn-fed pata negra from A-Hop). There are some good scares too, though most of the jumps (and I jump embarrasingly easily) result from either VERY LOUD MUSIC or the cinematic contrivance know as the Lewton Bus. It's also nice to see Rutger Hauer getting a little screentime as the undertaker dad and Ciaran Hinds - soon to be appearing as Aberforth Dumbledore in HP7B - is great as Father Xavier, the Vatican's go-to guy for demon extraction.

There are a plethora of flaws though. As well as the usual stuff - hokey dialogue, unoriginality, portentousness, flabby plotting - it seems that director Mikael Hafstrom was trying to work in a theme of religious self-doubt (and God-knows the characters talk about it enough): this fails, as the audience is left in no doubt that, in the universe of The Rite, demons are real, exorcism is real and there is a battle being fought on earth between the servants of the devil and the servants of God.

It also suffers from being too confined within the conventions of the exorcism sub-genre. Fairly early on, Hopkins asks O'Donoghue "What were you expecting? Spinning heads, pea soup?" - a sly nod at the titanic work in whose shadow this film labours. Of course, about five minutes later the head-spinning begins in earnest, along with some other neatly implausible tricks with frogs, mules and iron nails.

I suppose it is moderately entertaining, and there are certainly worse films on release at the moment, but don't expect fireworks (or pea soup).