"The Rite" declares at the onset that it's "Inspired by true events." I'm inclined to believe the claim, as the film keeps true to the slow trickle of existence, taking grand pauses between moments of exorcism intensity. It's a plodding, toothless crack at devilish doings, leaving much of its charisma to star Anthony Hopkins, who does just about whatever the hell he wants while the rest of the picture waits around for something meaningful to occur. Eternal damnation and flesh-tearing possession never felt more tedious and unprepared.
Raised in a mortuary under the chilling care of his disinterested father (Rutger Hauer), Michael (Colin O'Donoghue) has grown to question faith, electing to attend a seminary school to test his atheism. When the faculty senses something special about the young man, they send Michael to Rome to study exorcism at the Vatican, soon pairing him with a veteran, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), for further training. At first reluctant to believe in demonic expulsion, Michael is shown strange cases of possession, forcing the young man to reconsider his tempting disbelief when the Devil ends up closer than he could ever imagine.
"The Rite" is a suspiciously cautious film that confounds and bores. Director Mikael Hafstrom ("1408") certainly launches the picture with a confident introspective spirit, instilling the first act of the story with an intriguing mystery as Michael struggles with his religion and education, finding the priesthood unable to fill the emotional holes left behind by the death of his mother and the chilly rejection of his father. There's much ground to cover in the introductions, making the film's establishing scenes persuasive, promising a concentrated religious entanglement to confront Michael and his skepticism.
Once Hopkins enters the picture as the impulsive Father Lucas, "The Rite" ceases to display any type of dramatic command. It's as if Hafstrom wilted once the big name stepped onto the set, with Hopkins chewing scenery as the demented showman of the cloth, growling and barking around the frame in an effort to create a foaming madness equal to the possessed. The change in atmosphere is noticeable, and when the men set out to rip the Devil from a pregnant 15-year-old Italian girl, "The Rite" slows to a crawl, partially out of necessity to explore the protracted exorcism practices.
Unfortunately, once the feature's engine cools, it never restarts again. Despite some jolts and Hopkins's trademarked teeth-gnashing roar, "The Rite" goes to sleep, slogging through Michael's digestion of demonic clues and his painfully superfluous relationship with a fellow student (a droning Alice Braga). It's difficult to understand if the film is merely poorly directed or if this is all the story was ever going to offer. With the pace halted, the performances hardened, and the mystery barely tended to, "The Rite" fails as a thriller, leaving all this talk of demons, plagues, and lost faith to twist in the wind.
"The Rite" attempts a climatic scenario where Father Lucas and Michael battle for ravaged souls and belief, pitting the men against an internalized enemy of outlandish aggression and showy thespian theatrics. Enter Anthony Hopkins. The resolution drags on for quite an impressive amount of screentime, crippling the film's lasting impact the more it remains permissive with such hammy acting.
For a film that's almost entirely comprised of darkness, true shadow detail is lacking here. The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation lacks a crisp kick of blackness, with textures lost in dense hairstyles and costuming, lessening the impact of the exorcism sequences. Clarity is generally above average, with facial details captured satisfactorily, communicating distress when needed. Locations also supply some visual energy, with the picture's limited deployment of color handled with care. Some scenes suffer from softness, and skintones look a little too pink at times.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix seems to care for the quieter moments of the movie than the obvious demo-worthy confrontations . Dialogue is generally subdued and tinny, but critical expositional information is cleanly delivered, and Hopkins's broader bellows registering as intended. Surround activity isn't nearly as forceful as expected, with nuanced sound effects coming across a little weak, while the cacophonous moments of devil inhabitance are juiced too much, losing a comfortable middle ground where horror and dramatic elements can mix. Directionals are strong when the action heats up, while atmospherics are evocative when the story hits the cat-infested streets of Rome. French, Spanish, and Portuguese tracks are included.
English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are offered.
"'The Rite': Soldier of God" (6:40) interviews Father Gary Thomas and author Matt Baglio, whose book acted as the inspiration for the script. The conversation (also involving cast and crew) explores the real-life exorcism school, discussing how these courses are applied to demonic events. Details are given but nothing substantial is truly learned.
"Alternate Ending" (1:41) is nothing outrageous, merely more of a stinger conclusion compared to the soft finality of the finished film.
"Deleted Scenes" (12:39) provide some needed substance to the relationship between Michael and his father, offers more interplay between the priests, and a supplies a few extra nightmare beats for Michael.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
With such an impressive opening, "The Rite" isn't a complete failure. However, I have to admit, toward the end of this movie, I was rooting for the Devil to win.
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