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Having seen many movies about exorcism over the years, I thought I had seen all that the genre had to offer. But when I heard about The Rite, and it’s story of a struggling seminary student rediscovering his faith while attending exorcism school, I was genuinely excited about this new spin on a worn-out concept. Like most people, I’m sure, I was completely unaware that exorcism schools even existed, and this film, based on a true story, provides a fascinating insight into this unknown world.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite live up to the intriguing premise. Other than the always-captivating Anthony Hopkins, the best thing about the film is the idea behind it. Colin O’Donoghue plays Michael Kovak, a student who’s faith seems to be decreasing with each passing day. He’s going through the motions, because that is what is expected of him. Through a variety of circumstance, he finds himself hand-picked to attend this exorcism school, and eventually sent to the private tutelage of renowned exorcist, Father Lucas (Hopkins). He is immediately thrust into a case involving a young pregnant woman, seemingly possessed. Is she repressing childhood trauma, or is there something far more sinister at play?
I enjoyed the sequences of actual exorcism, and Marta Gastini brings a twisted playfulness to her scenes as the pregnant woman. However, the most important thing missing from this “horror” film is the horror. A good exorcism film should really get inside of an audience’s head. The antagonist in these films is Satan himself, and if a filmmaker can’t make Satan scary, then something is definitely wrong. Everything in the film feels staged, and there is never any genuine horror. Sure, there are moments that border on suspenseful, but I never found myself scared, and I definitely didn’t find myself unsettled when it was all over.
In watching the film, I got the sense of a filmmaker and cast going through the motions. Everything is staged well enough, but it feels observational, rather than immersive. The camera lingers as the events transpire, but we never feel as if anything truly significant is happening. The screenplay by Michael Petroni doesn’t take advantage of the intriguing setup, but seems to be following a rigid formula as dictated by previous horror films. He even utilizes the classic scare tactic of a cat jumping out at the audience.
However, the film’s biggest sin lies in the last act. I don’t want to give it away, but it reeks of Hollywood contrivance, and is so obvious and misguided at the same time, it brings the film to a staggering halt. Ironically, these scenes feature Hopkins’ best work in the film, but it’s at the expense of any credibility for the film itself. While Hopkins seems to delight in playing the twists and turns of these moments, it’s just not worth it. I don’t know why the screenwriter felt it necessary to resort to such cheap gimmickry, but I’m very disappointed that he did.
Regarding the recenty released Blu-Ray, the features are pretty sparse. The only real documentary on the set is “The Rite: Soldier of God,” which is a far-too-short, but genuinely interesting look at the real-life exorcism school that inspired the film. As explained in this feature, the film is based on a book by Matt Baglio who actually attended the real school while preparing the story. Baglio is needlessly even turned into a character in the film, although for some reason, he becomes a woman named Angeline, played by Alice Braga. His research is the focus of this feature, and while I found it very interesting, I found myself wanting much more.
Other than that, the disc contains some deleted scenes, and an alternate ending. It would have been an interesting way of closing the film, but it felt far more Hollywood than the ending they went with, and I’m glad that’s not the direction they decided to go.
That’s everything the disc has to offer. The picture looks great, and the moody soundtrack really stands out in an impressive sound mix. While the technical side of the presentation is flawless, I wish I could say the film for the actual film itself. I’d love to see another film tackle a similar subject, just without all the Hollywood tropes. Definitely worth a rental, I can’t really recommend much the film for much more than that.