Unreal Movie Review: The Rite

Once upon a time, there was a movie made called The Exorcist. Thanks to great direction, a young actress named Linda Blair and some pea soup, it’s been cemented as a horror classic ever since.

Unfortunately, the success of The Exorcist has spawned a thousand imitators since its release, and we’ve been plagued with a class of sub-par exorcism films in recent years that have lost the shock and terror that made the original so memorable. Maybe we’re just desensitized, or maybe  these are just bad films.

The Rite is a bad film. It’s a bad horror movie that’s trying to play dress-up to be a bad psychological drama, posing questions about religion and doubt that are neither compelling or even resolved by the end. Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

“I’ll charm the demon out with my chiseled good looks!”

A priest who is questioning his faith is tasked to do an exorcism. The girl is pregnant, displays symptoms of being deeply disturbed, leading the priest to believe the “demon” has actually been spawned by her father, who has possibly impregnated her. I’ve just described the set-up to The Rite, but also The Last Exorcism, the Eli Roth-produced handi-cam horror film from a few months back. That was also a disaster on many levels, but at least it managed to not be painfully dull the way The Rite is from start to finish.

The film moves so slowly, I’m pretty sure I could have dug a tunnel to hell and beat the devil with my shovel as punishment for inspiring this movie in the time it takes for anything interesting to happen on screen. Father-in-training Michael (Colin O’Donaghue) spends the first half of the film, wandering around being good looking and not much else. He’s supposed to be wrestling with his faith, but it never seems like he has any to begin with, which is why joining the priesthood in the first place makes little to no sense for his studly character.

But lo and behold he meets professional exorcist Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) who takes him to the aformentioned pregnant girl who he thinks is just scarred from incest, while the church believes her soul is under siege. And if you’ve watched the trailer, you know that the demonic presence seeps into Father Lucas eventually, and now the unbelieving priest must find his faith and cast the devil out of his new mentor.

“You may feel a strong thud on your skull.”

Despite all the intense warfare for the souls of mankind, all of this is just so indescribably boring. The biggest scare in the film comes when Michael gets close to a window and a cat jumps out at him. Meanwhile, when the pregnant girl and Anthony Hopkins are doing their best “scary” voices, you’re more likely to laugh than cower in fear. The exorcism scenes require a lot of snarling from the possessed and a lot of mumbo jumbo chanting from the priest, but as this is PG-13, there’s nothing terribly violent or twisted involved, and the demon’s best insults are along the lines of “you stink, priest!” The Exorcist, this is not.

Things are so interminable, I almost fell asleep halfway through the climactic Hopkins v. atheist priest exorcism scene that I’m assuming was supposed to have me on the edge of my seat. I guess I was, but only because in my semi-unconscious state, I’d slid down that far in my chair.

If you want to make an exorcism film that’s more psychological drama than horror, that’s fine with me. The Last Exorcism almost did that before it blew it in the final twenty minutes, and I have to believe there’s potential for a good film structured that way. But if you make every character and every seen so painfully uninteresting,  and reduce big psychological and spiritual concepts to preschool form, you’re in no way achieving your objective.

Yeah, that’s how most pregnant women look when they’re in labor isn’ t it?

This genre just doesn’t seem to know how to find a new creative angle. Exorcisms are creepy yes, but when you’ve seen one young girl writhing around and cursing, you’ve seen them all, and there’s nothing in this film to make it stand out in the least above legions of Exorcist imitators.

The fact that The Rite is based on a true story of a priest who found his faith by viewing exorcisms could have been its ticket to be something different, but when everything is Hollywood-ized, the authenticity is immediately lost. I have a hard time believing anyone ever witnessed someone’s eyes go white and every vein in their face go blue as they telekinetically slam doors shut and start spilling all your dark secrets with mind-reading powers.

It’s a film more likely to lull you into a nap than make the hairs on your neck stand up, and it’s hard to believe that between filming in Rome and an Oscar-calibur lead, this is a less effective film about demonic possession than one filmed for $10,000 by two people with a night vision camera in Paranormal Activity.

1 out of 5 stars

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  1. If you want to make an interesting and original exorcism movie, try making the victim a boy for once. As it is, it’s always a teenage girl, she always snarls and writhes around and she always makes lewd sexual comments to the priest. We’ve seen it. It’s been done. Let’s move on.
    With a little boy instead you could play up issues of puberty, pedophilia, burgeoning sexuality, suppressed homosexuality, just to name a few angles that a simple gender swap could cover.

  2. I was never all that scared by this genre. The biggest problem for me is that the possessed person never seem to cause any harm to OTHER people other than themselves. Yeah, it would suck to be the poor girl possessed by the devil, but there is no substantial threat to me personally.

    Most of the time, it seems that only those that choose to interact with the devil get hurt. If I were in one of those situations, I would just get the heck out of the room, problem solved.

  3. Well, zero, that’s why you wouldn’t be the hero and the movie wouldn’t be about you.
    The priest/exorcist is the hero of the story. He risks harm to himself in order to save the girl. And potentially anybody else who could interact with her.

  4. @T-Bagg

    You are right, but that’s why it’s not scary to me. While the audience may not be the main character of other horror movies, there is an underlying threat to the viewers. For example, if you watch a zombie or ghost movie, these super natural things can actually hurt you if they were real. It’s that sense of potential danger that scares me.

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