Sunday, May 22, 2011

THE RITE (2011) - Review

Anthony Hopkins in a horror movie, casting demons out of people ? Where do I sign ? Honestly, who wouldn't want to see Hopkins bring some of his british cool to a horror movie. On the other hand, there was a time when the fact that a movie was directed by Mikael Hafstrom would have been a treat, but nowadays, it's just all right. He's done some pretty average stuff after "Evil", but to be fair, his work is still a notch above some of the crap Hollywood cranks out on a weekly basis, including a better-than-average adaptation of a Stephen King novel, "1408".

Michael Kovac (Colin O'Donoghue), a young priest-to-be is facing a crysis of faith. Even though he's spent three years studying to become a priest, he intends to drop out. He's sent to Rome in a last attempt at salvaging his faith. Here he attends exorcism classes and meets father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), a rather unorthodox exorcist. And like any proper exorcism movie, the two of them will clash with the forces of evil and (of course) by the end of the movie, Michael gets to perform an exorcism himself.

The Devil versus Hannibal Lecter, now there's a challenge.
Of all the exorcism movies out there, this one feels like a better fit between the pragmatism of "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and the roller-coaster terror of "The Exorcist". There's a subtle debate on the concept of faith and the dual reality of demonic possesion. Is it real, or just a mental disorder ? It involves the audience and actually makes you think for a while. The protagonist doubts and questions, most of the time in tune with the audience's feelings on the subject, which is a nice touch. When the movie eventually succumbs to the requisite exorcism scenes, it dumbs down somewhat, but is still involving on a level that you'll find surprisingly engaging. And it's all very effectively mounted technically, considering its relatively smallish budget.

Sir Anthony Hopkins crafts a strong character, able to face demonic forces, but still vulnerable and complex. The movie's third act requires him to shed all that complexity and just amp up the creepiness, which he does well enough, performing it with a subtle menace, the likes of which I haven't seen since Ridley Scott's "Hannibal" (It wouldn't be fair to mention the superior "Silence of the Lambs" in this context). Colin O'Donoghue is pretty darn good himself as Michael and he handles the character's conflicted nature very smoothly, without coming off as pathetic or whiny. Nice supporting role for Rutger Hauer too.

Overall, it's not in any way an instant classic in the horror pantheon, but it's effective and smarter than it needs to be. Hafstrom plays the thrills on a psychological level, avoiding the overblown spectacle that movies like "Exorcist : The Beginning" (the Renny Harlin version) were forced to stage in order for the studios to make a buck.

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