Since the release of William Friedman’s classic film, The Exorcist, a steady stream of other ‘exorcism’ related horror movies have tried to emulate its success. These have all not been altogether very fruitful in their efforts, but I think The Rite has managed to get closer than any previous effort in this pursuit. The other recent attempts The Last Exorcism and The Devil Inside both lack something which, fortunately, The Rite appears to have mastered. I think one of the biggest flaws of the ‘exorcism’ type of story is that there is not a whole that one can do with it, at least, not a lot that the audience hasn’t seen before. There’s only so much enjoyment that one can get out of watching a person being possessed and writhing about uncomfortably on the floor. The other major flaw, of course, being that a lot of people are not religious at all, meaning that the thought of exorcism and people becoming possessed by demons is not believable at best, and at worst, a laughable notion. These kinds of exorcism films rely on audiences being in touch with the Christian ideologies of the Devil and Hell and demons, and exploiting the audiences fear of them, but in more modern times, religion has become an outmoded concept which holds little fear (for non-believers).
Though, what is perhaps more scary about The Rite than the other exorcism movies is that it does seem to be a more realistic portrayal of what the world of exorcism is really like. This is because the film did not go overboard on special effects and was really understated in its approach to the ‘possessed’ victims. I absolutely commend how they achieved this, because the ‘scares’ were all due to a well-built up tension and eerie cinematography. And because The Rite seemed more realistic, and like it could actually ‘belong’ in our world, it made all the difference to how audiences view the film. We are taken along on the journey with Michael to get to the bottom of all of the chaos surrounding exorcism, starting off with a fairly neutral mindset – which is just perfect in creating a nice development in the story and characters as the film progresses.
Despite the consensus that this film works only for the Christian believers out there, I most vehemently disagree, as I found the film an interesting and unnerving watch and I have absolutely not religious bones in my body. I think that when one watches a movie, especially a horror movie, one does have to suspend their beliefs for the duration – but this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of it, it is simply part of the experience. Does anyone really believe in a stalker killing people in their dream? Does anyone really believe in cursed videotapes? Does anyone really believe in witches or vampires or mutants or zombies? Of course not, but it doesn’t matter all that much, because it is just a film, at the end of the day.
The film travels at a fairly slow pace which, coupled with the dark and dismal atmosphere, makes for creepy viewing even before anything ‘obviously’ horrific occurs. Therefore, it does require the audience have a little bit of patience, so if you’re into the fast-paced slasher flicks, then perhaps this one is not for you. No gratuitious sex or violence – which might be a plus for some but a minus for others! It relies instead on a gradual onset of eeriness, and I personally thought that the opening scene of Michael Kovak (played by Colin O’Donoghe) working as a mortician by preparing a body set the tone wonderfully for the rest of the movie. Other bizarrely unsettling moments in this film include demonic (?) frogs and a priest (I won’t say which one here!) slapping a young child.
I think this kind of goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – Anthony Hopkins gives a wonderful performance as Father Lucas Trevant. There is always something about any role he plays which is hypnotic and intense – a quality which is remarkable for an actor to have, it’s a gift, it really is. I would personally say that it would probably be worth watching The Rite specifically for Anthony Hopkins, and nothing else. So this film is definitely one that I think people should give a watch (religious and non-religious alike) as it makes for fascinating viewing. As far as exorcism films go, it’s up there with the best of them. It’s one of those films which are not so terrifyingly scary as to give you nightmares for a week, but it has its moments, for sure.