Despite his serious crisis of faith, trainee priest Michael (ODonoghue) is recruited to learn the ways of the exorcist. Hes sent to Rome and meets veteran demon-cleanser Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins). But can doubting Michael overcome his concerns when
Let's get the snarling, head-twisting, pea soup-vomiting elephant in the room out of the way: The Rite is no Exorcist. The comparisons were inevitable, since 1408 director Mikael Håfström’s latest horror is based on the truth of a demon-vanquishing priest and a young apprentice ministering to a seemingly possessed girl. But from the concept, this then takes a very different turn and, in an attempt to circumvent expected concerns, Håfström even has Hopkins dispel the notion that real-world exorcisms are much like the sweary, violent struggles of William Friedkin’s classic.
Er… Except when Hopkins’ Father Lucas Trevant is involved, it would seem. Just not to the same degree. And that’s a problem that infects most of the film. The Rite feels like Exorcist Lite, with the shocks much more telegraphed and most of the demonic misbehaviour toned down for today’s audiences. So no references to mothers doing anything with cocks in hell, just lots of playground insults hurled about. And when you resort to that hoary old cliché of the Sudden Cat Scare, you know this doesn’t quite have the same power.
Which is a shame, because there’s a lot to enjoy here — Colin O’Donoghue makes for a solid lead and a conflicted main character, running away from his past but unsure about his future, who is forced to grow up fast when his faith in both God and, even more importantly, Science is truly challenged by what he witnesses. And Hopkins has been handed a part that lets him chow down with usual aplomb, filling the role of experienced priest, wise mentor, batty old loon and world-weary soul efficiently. To his credit, Håfström has plumped for a realism in most scenes, and the grit and grime definitely help the atmosphere. He’s also shied away from the CG excesses and cinematographic jiggery-pokery that some directors might have given in to — the demonic visitations are largely physical affairs, especially some well-judged work from newcomer Marta Gastini as a pregnant girl with serious daddy issues and what appears to be an evil spirit lurking in her noggin. Her interactions with Hopkins and O’Donoghue, all crunching bones and mad-eyed flailing, are satisfyingly creative. But the Devil, as they say, is in the details, and thanks to a rushed, predictable and ultimately sanitised finale, not all of them line up here.
Hopkins does his thing, and Håfström leaves him alone to do it well. Though its doubtful this will be remembered as a horror touchstone in years to come, theres enough entertainment to be found within. Just dont walk in expecting to become a believer b