Starring Colin O’Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins and Alice Braga

Directed by Mikael Håfström

Written by Michael Petroni

Any movie coming out in January must fall under suspicion. This month and August are Hollywood’s dumping grounds, the time when weak films finally get their chance in theatres alongside critical darlings getting expanded runs after platform December openings.

Which brings us to The Rite, an exorcism thriller starring Anthony Hopkins and directed by the man who gave us the half-decent Stephen King adaptation 1408. And despite its many failings, The Rite works much of the time – just not enough to justify seeing it this weekend.

Irish newcomer Colin O’Donoghue stars as Michael Kovak, an American seminary student studying in Rome to become an exorcist. Sceptical of everything, including his own faith, Michael starts an apprenticeship of sorts under Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), a Welsh exorcist whose steadfast belief in evil is only undercut by his own occasional lapses in faith.

The Rite follows Kovak, the son of a mortician (Rutger Hauer), as he and Lucas attempt to exorcise a pregnant girl (Marta Gastini), although Kovak is convinced she is mentally ill, not possessed. But strange occurrences and irrefutable evidence starts to wear down the young priest’s doubts, especially when the devil’s attentions fall upon him.

The script by Michael Petroni (Queen of the Damned), which was “suggested” by the non-fiction book by author Matt Baglio, gives O’Donoghue and Hopkins several nice character moments, although Alice Braga (I Am Legend) is mostly wasted as a journalist researching an article on exorcisms. Director Mikael Håfström lets his scenes breathe and there’s a real emotional heart beating, including several tender moments between Hauer and a young Michael (Ben Cheetham).

But The Rite’s thrills feel contrived, pushed forward by an overly dramatic score and a need to wrap up the proceedings neatly. Michael’s lack of faith is a major plot point which is resolved just a little too slickly to be believed, although O’Donoghue makes Michael a sympathetic figure. Hopkins, meanwhile, has much fun playing the odd older priest, sometimes recalling Hannibal Lecter, to the film’s detriment perhaps given its inferiority to a classic like Silence of the Lambs.

The Rite lacks the creepiness of the far smaller budgeted The Last Exorcism but benefits from its beautiful Roman streetscapes and a uniformly strong cast but pulls its punches when it comes to delivering real scares. (No doubt its makers would refer to it as a thriller, not a horror film.) Comparisons to The Exorcist are, of course, inevitable, but there is no comparison. While The Rite manages to cast its own spell, it’s not a very powerful one.

Rating: 3/5

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