THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Movies about exorcisms tend to feel like all the other movies about exorcisms. It's as though Hollywood thinks there is only one way to approach the subject - the way The Exorcist did - and so that one style is repeated again and again. For a short while, I thought The Rite would break this pattern, but it too succumbs to all the usual stuff we've seen countless times before.
Colin O'Donogue (in one of the dullest, most charisma-free performances I've ever seen) plays Michael Kovak, a seminary student who decides to become a priest because it's better than working in the funeral home run by his old man (Rutger Hauer). Shortly before becoming ordained, he decides that he doesn't really even have faith, so following through on the profession would be pointless. An elder priest convinces him not to quit until he has spent some time being mentored by Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), an expert in the field of exorcising demons. Michael complies with the request, but immediately clashes with Fr. Lucas because, theoretically speaking, if one doesn't believe in God, one probably doesn't believe in the devil either. Michael is inclined to attribute disturbing behavior to mental health disorders rather than to demonic possession.
This stuff is all fairly interesting. For a while, it almost seems that The Rite is going to take exorcism seriously and present it in an intellectual way. Then all the hokum suddenly kicks in. Michael sees things that can't easily be explained away, and there's the very real possibility that a demon may be trying to transfer itself into Fr. Lucas. (I'll let you guess for yourself whether or not that happens. Hey, you were right!) Along the way, we get images of the possessed characters rolling their eyes back in their heads, making bizarre guttural noises, and contorting their bodies into almost impossible positions. I was surprised that no one vomited pea soup.
The longer The Rite goes on, the more it devolves into the normal claptrap. Given that the early scenes suggested a little more ambition, it feels kind of like a betrayal when the story goes down the predictable road. Most laughably, we are informed that this is based on a true story. It kind of is (see my section on the Blu-Ray's bonus features); I have to acknowledge, though, that whenever I see the words "inspired by true events" listed on a film, I immediately suspect that the true events have been warped and twisted a million different ways. The Rite can't possibly be too close to the truth, as some of the things that happen are downright impossible.
Everything about the film looks good; director Mikael Hafstrom (1408) and cinematographer Ben Davis provide suitably atmospheric visuals. Hopkins, as you'd expect, appears game for his role. There's definitely a good movie hiding in here somewhere. I understand that turning what should be a meditation on faith into a demon-possession flick probably seemed like a safe box office bet, but it also robbed The Rite of the opportunity to rise above what we usually get in movies about exorcisms. That's a real shame.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Rite arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray/DVD/digital copy combo pack on May 17. It will also be available for rent on demand through digital cable, satellite TV, and IPTV. It can be purchased for permanent download or rented on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and XBox 360 and Playstation 3 game consoles.
Special features on the Blu-Ray are highlighted by "Solider of God," a seven-minute segment profiling Father Gary Thomas, the Vatican-ordained exorcist who story inspired the film. Father Thomas speaks of his experiences training to become an exorcist, and we see fascinating footage from inside the actual exorcism academy. Author Matt Baglio, who told Father Thomas's story in book form, is interviewed as well. While short, this feature is really compelling - so compelling, in fact, that it makes me wish the filmmakers had just made a documentary instead.
Beyond that, there are almost thirteen minutes of inconsequential deleted scenes, as well as an alternate ending. Actually, it's almost identical to the theatrical ending, except for the brief suggestion of ongoing demonic forces at work. The one that actually got used in the final cut is better.
The Rite is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images, and language including sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.