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Rite, The

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // May 17, 2011 // Region 0
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 7, 2011 | E-mail the Author
"Really? That's it?"
"What did you expect? Spinning head? Pea soup?"

Well, something would've been nice, yeah. The Rite is a lazy, lifeless rehash of The Exorcist that's been neutered to play for the PG-13 crowd. It knows that comparisons are inevitable, so, sure, it gives The Exorcist that knowing wink, but after
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adding in a young priest (well, close enough) haunted by the death of one of his parents and tormented by his loss of faith...oh, and he happens to be a boxer, and he's mentored by an elderly priest well-versed in the art of exorcism, and he's supposed to vanquish a demon that's possessed the body of a teenaged girl with severe daddy issues...well, The Rite seems like less of an homage and more like a blurry photocopy of William Friedkin's screenplay from a few decades back. It has nothing new to say. There's not a single memorable setpiece. There's nothing even a little bit gruesome or disturbing about The Rite. The performances bound back and forth between hamfisted and unrelentingly wooden. It squanders the talents of what should've been a terrific supporting cast. If The Rite had the courage to take some chances, it at least could have been an interesting failure, but instead it's just uninspired, derivative, and almost aggressively forgettable.

Colin O'Donoghue stars as Michael Kovak, and...well, the first half hour goes something like this: everyone in my family is either a mortician or a priest, and I'm kinda tired of the father-and-son mortician biz, so I guess I've gotta apply to seminary school. Oh, wait, I know I'm, like, twenty minutes away from my final vows and everything, but it turns out that I don't wanna be a priest after all, but I'm on the hook for a hundred grand if I bail. Um, but Father Superior says that even though I've lost my faith and everything, and even though I'm not technically a priest, I can still score an all-expenses-paid trip to Rome for two months to go to Exorcist School. 'Cause, y'know, the Catholic
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Church wants an exorcist in every diocese. Kind of like a SEAL Team 6 to square off against the devil's footsoldiers or something.

So, anyway, Michael sits in on Exorcism 101 where his professor plinks away at a ritzy, $250K touchscreen computer table thingie to load videos and photo galleries of the possessed, but Mikey gets his real education down-'n-dirty from Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a quirky old codger who's performed thousands of exorcisms over the years. Despite all the batshit things Michael is forced to witness -- a pregnant teenaged girl vomiting up an entire box of nails, callbacks to things Michael has seen and heard that she couldn't possibly know about -- he keeps marching along in the role of skeptic because that's what the script says he has to do. ...but then a threat comes that forces Michael to take the reins as exorcist, but you already know how this goes because you've already seen the trailer and you've definitely already seen The Exorcist.

Since The Rite is PG-13, it has to play nice. One of its hypothetically-creepiest visuals is a demon-possessed mule with big red eyes.
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"Il mulo!" embeds a couple of hoofmarks in one of the local tykes because I don't know why. There's a jump scare with a cat jumping out, and that's scraping the muck off the bottom of the barrel. A lot of the other scares revolve around the possessed standing still for a while and then suddenly strangling whoever's nearby. None of it works as The Rite disinterestedly digs through an awfully stale bag of tricks. It tries to take a more psychological approach overall, which I respect in theory, but the movie's dragged down by choppy pacing, wildly uneven acting, bland characters, and an inability to generate any sense of looming dread whatsoever. Colin O'Donoghue is dead air, devoid of any charisma or screen presence, and it certainly doesn't help that he's playing a plot device rather than an honest-to-God character. There's a solid supporting cast in Alice Braga, Toby Jones, and Rutger Hauer, although they're all given next-to-nothing to do. Anthony Hopkins radiates a definite charm early on as the oddball Father Lucas -- taking a call on his cell mid-exorcism is one of The Rite's few inspired moments -- but he devolves into more and more of a cartoonish cariacture as the movie goes along and he starts Hannibal Lecter-ing it up.

Ugh. We're talking about a movie where you're supposed to be unnerved by a possessed preggers teenager growling "Kissy lips!" in a Christian Bale Batman voice. She snarls "Hello! HELLoooooo!" because...get it? Hell? And that fucking demon mule. Oh, man. Just think a PG-13 version of The Exorcist that got whacked in the head with a shovel. Bland, boring, and without anything new or vaguely interesting to say: Skip It.

The Rite looks decent enough in high definition. I was never really in awe of its crispness or clarity, but both are still very much in keeping with what I'd expect from a studio horror flick fresh out of theaters. Detail is terrific whenever the camera's closed in tightly and there's plenty of light to work with, but clarity takes a hit during the dimmer stretches, coming across as fuzzier and less distinct. The palette is pretty much what you'd expect from a movie like this -- frigid and foreboding. There are, as expected, no signs of any wear or speckling. The bitrate is kept high enough to stave off any compression artifacting, and it's clear from just how fine the grain is that Warner hasn't heaped on any excessive filtering or noise reduction. The Rite is a very nice looking disc that just seems to be limited somewhat by the original photography.

Since The Rite comes packaged with a DVD as well, I went ahead and snapped a couple of comparison shots for anyone who's curious.

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The AVC encode for The Rite spans both layers of this BD-50 disc, and the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 has been preserved on Blu-ray.

The sound
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design throughout The Rite seems as if it's making all the right noises. The lower frequences are substantial, thanks to the colossal stings in the score and gutteral demonic snarls. The surround channels are teeming with atmosphere...not to mention hellish gurgling and the occasional frenzied scream. The technical specs are all there too -- six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio -- but it just lacks that extra punch that I've come to expect out of Blu-ray. The Rite's dialogue sounds limp and lifeless. The score by Alex Heffes doesn't roar with the sort of ferocity that's generally part and parcel with a studio horror film. I didn't do a direct comparison between the lossless audio on this Blu-ray disc and the accompanying DVD, but there's part of me that suspects I really wouldn't be able to pick out much of a difference. It just feels like something's if the gloss has been smeared away. Passable but below average.

Also included are Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in Quebecois-French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Subtitles, meanwhile, have been provided in English (SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese. As The Rite is set in Rome, it kinda follows that some of the dialogue is in Italian -- as well as a little in Russian and Hungarian for good measure, I guess -- and this is subtitled on the default English track too. Owners of constant image height projection rigs should note that these subs spill over into the letterboxing bars.

Not much.
  • The Rite: Soldier of God (7 min.; HD): The one and only
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    featurette on this Blu-ray disc chats up real-life exorcist Gary Thomas, the priest whose story inspired The Rite. It delves briefly into the Exorcism 101 course and how it broke away from Thomas' expectations. He also chats about his mentor, Father Carmen, and the tell-tale signs of demonic possession. It ends with a really quick note about how The Rite came together, but that's about it. Really short and insubstantial.

  • Deleted Scenes (14 min.; HD): The highlight of this reel of deleted scenes swirls around Michael's father stumbling upon his son's acceptance letter to seminary school. Otherwise, there's really not much of note. More wandering around in the rain. More back-and-forth between Michael and the rest of the supporting cast. More devil iconography. The chilling alternate ending promised on the cover is served up under its own heading, but nothing otherworldly or demonic happens. It's also just teasing around with the iconography angle. Oh well.
There's also a BD Live gateway, but there's nothing of note about The Rite lurking there. The second disc in the set doubles as a DVD and as a digital copy. Oh, and that digital copy plays nicely with both iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices for anyone keeping track at home. It might also be worth a mention that The Rite comes packaged in a cardboard slipcover.

The Final Word
The Rite is a paint-by-numbers demon possession flick, only...well, that paint has been watered down to score a PG-13 rating. It's nothing you haven't seen before, and the only distinctive or vaguely memorable thing about it is Anthony Hopkins getting a chance to shamelessly gnaw on the scenery. Routine and instantly forgettable. Skip It.
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