“The Rite” exorcises fear of the unknown

By Kate MacDonald


The latest in what should be a Hollywood genre of exorcism films, “The Rite,” starring Colin O’Donoghue and Anthony Hopkins, is surprisingly well-made and entertaining. Where other movies have failed (like the ill-fated “Exorcism of Emily Rose” and “The Omen”), “The Rite” is supported by a flowing story based on true events.

Young mortician Michael Kovak (O’Donoghue) decides to get out of his small town and see something of the world. Due to his family’s history, Kovak is forced to choose between being a priest or a mortician. After entering the seminary, he begins to question his faith and wants out; before he can do so, he is enticed by an exorcism class in Rome – a last ditch attempt by a mentor to enlist another priest.
Attending the class, he is clearly still a doubter. With prompting, he visits Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), an unorthodox exorcist. When Kovak witnesses a series of exorcisms, will his faith be saved? What will he do when such proof of the unseen gets a little too close for comfort?
New to the silver screen, O’Donoghue plays his part like a seasoned Hollywood veteran. Known for a small part on the television series “The Tudors,” the Irish actor has had little experience, but brings tangible depth to Kovak’s character.
The majority of Kovak’s back-story is shown through a series of flashbacks throughout the film, which round out the character nicely. Although supported by great actors like Hopkins and Ciarán Hinds, O’Donoghue steals the show with his performance.
These experienced supporting actors do not, however, fall without a fight. Known best for his portrayal of the character Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs” series, Hopkins flawlessly assumes the role of Trevant. There are quite a few ominous scenes in which Father Lucas channels Lecter’s crazed doctor character in his speech and actions. While this can be distracting, as viewers try to figure out what is so familiar about the character, it actually adds to the chilling scenes.
Surprisingly, Father Lucas’ character brings laughs to “The Rite.” A movie about exorcisms doesn’t seem like it would have many funny moments, but Hopkins brings a comedic timing that doesn’t seem out of place or odd.
Most notably, Director Mikael Hafstrom effectively controls the pacing of the film, preventing scenes from dragging on and becoming boring. Hafstrom, known for the 2005 thriller “Derailed,” kept the audience on the edge of their seats for most of the film, a tribute to his ability to avoid predictability.
Clearly the hardest working contributor to “The Rite,” however, is cinematographer Ben Davis, who viewers can thank for some visually beautiful shots. The cinematography first gets the audience’s attention with captivating depictions of behind-the-scenes mortuary work, but Davis’ work keeps the scene interesting, rather than disgusting.
“The Rite” also features amazing aerial shots of Rome and the Vatican which are eventually lowered down to street level, allowing viewers to see Rome the way Romans do. The majority of the scenes are shot at eye level and close up, which adds to viewers’ feeling of being present in the room for the exorcisms.
The score, though it becomes lost in the action, can also up the fear factor, as creepy laughter and church bells fill the silence. Although more probably could have been done with the background music, its simplicity emphasized the actions portrayed on the screen.
While a movie about exorcisms must include religious symbols and values, Hafstrom is careful not to force any beliefs on the audience, mostly because the central character is a nonbeliever.
The most chilling aspect of “The Rite” is that it is actually based on true events. While little is revealed concerning this fact, the story’s basis in reality is alarming when events begin to unfold.
Overall, “The Rite” is a great addition to the stack of exorcism flicks. Between the cast, flowing plotline and visually appealing shots, there is never a dull moment. “The Rite” is already at the top of the box office for its opening weekend, and this chilling, psychological thriller is sure to captivate viewers for some time.
Kate MacDonald can be reached at [email protected]