CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE RITE (2011)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(The Scene: The interior of a darkened room. The shades are drawn and the door is closed . L.L. SOARES is tied to a chair . MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed as a priest, stands over him.)
MA: Tell me your name, demon!
LS: Never! Get out of my face, priest!
(MA splashes LS with holy water . LS licks his lips.)
LS: Mmm . Lemon flavored. I rather like that.
MA: Stick to the script .
LS: The props department actually gave us lemon-flavored holy water?
MA: The usual crew’s on vacation. Someone new is working props this week.
(CUT to DONKEY and SHREK playing around inside the prop room.
DONKEY: How about some lemon-flavored holy water?
SHREK: I don’t know, Donkey. I don’t think they drink it.
DONKEY: Don’t drink it? What else do they do it with it? Splash it on their foreheads or something?
Cut back to MA and LS.)
MA: Demon, tell me your name!
LS (Curly voice): Sointantly! I’m the devil. I go by many names. Lucifer. Beelzebub. Jay Leno!
MA: Begone! That was easy. Now that that’s over with (unties LS) let’s get on with our review.
Today, we’re reviewing THE RITE (2011) the latest movie about exorcists, this one starring Anthony Hopkins. I did not have high hopes for this one, as I didn’t expect it to come close to last year’s excellent and very scary exorcist movie, THE LAST EXORCISM (2010), but I have to admit, I was surprised.
THE RITE is the story of young Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue). He lives with and works for his mortician dad (Rutger Hauer), a life he really wants to escape from, so he decides to enter the seminary because, as he tells his friend, in his family the men either become morticians or priests. Michael admits to having lots of doubts in terms of his faith, and so he fully expects that after four years in the seminary, he most likely will drop out.
After four years, he decides to do just that, but his advisor priest tells him he sees lots of potential in him and doesn’t want him to leave the priesthood. He asks Michael to give the vocation one more chance and go to Rome to take a course in exorcism, and then make his final decision. Michael accepts the offer, and when he continues to express his doubts in Rome, the priest there teaching the course on exorcism, Father Xavier (Cirian Hinds, who played Julius Caesar in HBO’s series ROME), sends him to work with Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) an eccentric local priest and very experienced exorcist.
Trevant is anything but conventional. He invites Michael to take part in an exorcism within moments of meeting him; in the middle of an exorcism he answers his cell phone; and he is, by all accounts, an odd fellow, but there is something charismatic about him, perhaps his honesty in acknowledging that he too has doubts.
At first, Michael continues to be skeptical, but then weird things begin to happen that make Michael think twice about his lack of faith. To add fuel to the fire, Father Lucas himself becomes possessed by a demon, and suddenly Michael has lost his mentor to the other side. He enlists the aid of a reporter, Angeline (Alice Braga), he had befriended earlier in the exorcism class, and the two of them together confront the evil that is stalking Michael and Father Lucas.
(LS snores loudly)
MA: Hey, wake up!
LS: Huh? You were putting me to sleep.
MA: Uh oh. I guess that means you didn’t like this one, but I’m not surprised . There weren’t any scenes of torture in it.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised by THE RITE. I did not think I was going to like it, but I have to say, I did.
First of all, I found the story believable….
(LS laughs hysterically)
MA: Let me finish before you choke to death on your funny bone—I’m not just talking about the good and evil stuff, as in whether one believes in God or the devil . I’m talking about that I believed in these characters and their beliefs and doubts. They were convincing, as was the story. It’s a solid story, and while it’s not flat out scary, it is kinda creepy. There’s an undercurrent of dread throughout this film.
(Someone knocks at the door)
MA: Come in!
(A very pregnant Italian girl enters)
GIRL: I am here for my exorcism.
MA: Sorry, the exorcist is on a lunch break. We’re doing a movie review here.
GIRL: That’s okay. I’ll wait. (She sits down on the chair LS was previously sitting in)
MA: The other thing I liked is it didn’t go overboard with the exorcism scenes. These scenes didn’t come off as fake, where we see priests acting like Jedi knights, fighting off demons and the devil, as if they’re supervillains. The exorcism scenes in THE RITE were realistic, in that nothing that happened in the scenes jumped out at me as phony. I wasn’t thinking “that would never happen.” And that’s why this one remained subtly disturbing; there was a strong sense of realism throughout.
LS: Realism? No, wrong word. You must mean boredom. Because the exorcism scenes just never go far enough. They seem on the verge of really turning into something, but they never cross the line into real scares.
MA: So, you’re saying that a movie can’t be scary if it’s not graphic? I don’t agree with that at all .
LS: Stop putting words in my mouth! (begins to choke and then spits up plastic words onto the ground)
Ouch. No, I wasn’t saying things have to be graphic to be scary. But this movie would have been a lot better if it had the balls to take its premise all the way.
Of course the limitations of the PG-13 rating don’t help. What that means is that instead of spouting real profanity, the possessed souls spout gibberish which is a mix of “acceptable” swear words (for the rating) and nonsense that sounds like swearing.
MA: So, if a demon doesn’t say four letter words, it’s not realistic? That doesn’t make any sense.
LS: Actually, it does. And, in this movie, the sexuality also just goes so far – but doesn’t cross a line.
MA: That’s right. No boobs . I guess you don’t like this movie then!
LS: If you’re possessed by a demon – chances are pretty good you are going to have some extreme behavior that is going to go beyond the limits of PG-13. This movie always seemed on the verge of wanting to cross over into truly disturbing territory, but it never does. It wimps out repeatedly. In turn, the “scary” scenes never get really scary. We know they will only go so far. And the most we get in the way of unsettling imagery is people spitting up iron nails.
MA: Last time I checked, a person spitting up iron nails is kinda unnerving.
LS: Not really. I thought it was kind of lame.
MA: The acting was excellent. I thought Anthony Hopkins more than made up for his subpar performance in THE WOLFMAN (2010). He created a very memorable character in Father Lucas . While I don’t think Father Lucas is quite as dynamic a character as the Rev. Cotton Marcus in THE LAST EXORCISM, he’s pretty darn close. Whereas Marcus considered exorcisms to be phony and went through the motions to satisfy his “customers,” Lucas believes in the demons he’s fighting . Lucas is a much more deeply haunted character than Cotton Marcus, and Hopkins does a terrific job bringing this character to life.
LS: Okay, maybe his performance in THE WOLFMAN wasn’t the best, but that was certainly a better movie than this one.
MA: I thought THE RITE had a tighter story, but I wasn’t really comparing the movies, just Hopkins’s performance in them.
LS: You’re right. The acting in THE RITE is very good. Hopkins is fine. So is Colin O’Donoghue as Michael, and I liked Alice Braga a lot as the reporter, Angeline. My problem isn’t with them. My problem is with the script. It’s a friggin snoozefest.
(Suddenly, the GIRL starts screaming. Her legs rise and a BABY’s head pokes out from between them.)
BABY (in a gruff voice): Do you guys mind? I’m trying to sleep in here.
LS: Everyone’s a critic.
MA: I also appreciated the fact that once Father Lucas becomes possessed, the film didn’t deteriorate into a silly “good vs. evil” melodrama. What happens to Lucas is consistent with the story, and how Lucas reacts during the possession is also very realistic. He doesn’t become Bad Ass Devil Villain from Hell . He’s simply Father Lucas possessed by a demon. He’s not running through the streets trying to take over the world.
LS: Yeah, Father Lucas is possessed by a demon. An incredibly wimpy demon who really doesn’t know how to generate real scares. He has a few good moments, but overall, the possession scenes were a letdown.
MA (to BABY): You’re annoying, and you’re not even born yet! I disagree about the exorcism scenes. I thought they were adequate enough.
LS: Adequate. What a ringing endorsement!
MA: As you pointed out, Colin O’Donoghue delivered a strong performance as Michael Kovak. Again, it comes down to believability. I believed in his character’s doubts . I also enjoyed how Kovak doubted at every turn, and how he was quick to express these doubts, telling Father Lucas that the girl they were helping needed a doctor not a priest, to which Lucas quickly quipped, “I am a doctor.” I was happy to go along with Kovak on his journey, and this was because of both O’Donoghue’s performance and the writing.
LS: Yes, O’Donoghue is very good in this movie. I liked his character, too. Too bad he wasn’t in a better movie.
MA: And yes, Alice Braga was also very good as the reporter Angeline. We saw Braga in a couple of movies last year, PREDATORS (2010) and REPO MEN (2010). She was good in both those films, and she’s good here in THE RITE. And it’s always fun seeing Rutger Hauer in a movie, as he remains one of my favorite actors, even though his role here as Michael’s father is not very big.
Michael Petroni wrote the screenplay based on a book by Matt Baglio, and for the most part, I thought it was a decent script. Petroni created a very memorable character in Father Lucas, brought to life by Anthony Hopkins, and he crafted a story that remained convincing throughout. I could have done without the “inspired by true events” at the beginning. These words appear so much in movies nowadays it’s almost like writing “this is a horror movie” on the screen, or “inspired by thoughts in the writer’s head.” If it’s not a documentary, I’m really not all that interested in knowing that true events might have inspired it. After all, isn’t this the case with most fiction? Duh!
THE RITE was directed by Mikael Hafstrom, and he proved adept at the helm. There were a lot of neat and memorable images in this one. I liked the demonic donkey, which sounds goofy, but in the film it’s anything but.
DONKEY (Pokes head out from behind a curtain): I knew there was a reason I was appearing in this column today, other than my good looks!
LS: Actually, it was a mule. And yeah, I liked it too.
DONKEY: Mule, donkey, what’s the difference! Who cares! I still get to be here!
LS: (His eyes suddenly turn bright red) Possessed animals are cool.
DONKEY: YIKES! (runs away)
MA: The exorcism scenes were handled well, as they were scary without going over the top .
LS: Actually, when a demon possesses someone in a movie, going “over the top” is exactly what should be happening. All HELL should break loose. Demons aren’t mannered and adhere to boundaries of good taste. They go wild. Not once in this movie does anyone go wild. And you’re right, there are exactly zero scares in this movie.
MA: Yes, that was one area where THE RITE could have been better . It’s not all that scary.
LS: You think?
MA: But getting back to the “over the top” comment again. I’m talking about movies like EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) where the exorcism scenes were overdramatic and phony. I thought the scenes here were low-key, yes, but they were realistic and a bit creepy.
And I don’t think THE RITE fails as a scary movie. I mean, it’s not an in-your-face- scarefest . It’s more of a “quiet horror” story.
LS: Quiet? Try mute!
MA: I thought there was an undercurrent of discomfort throughout THE RITE. While I wouldn’t describe it as edge-of-your-seat by any means, still, you could find yourself with a sweaty palm or two.
LS: Maybe you did.
MA: It moves at a deliberate pace, and it takes its time telling its story.
LS: Deliberate pace? That’s a nice way of saying it’s very drawn out and slow and boring, right? Because that’s how I saw it.
MA: I wasn’t bored . I was captivated pretty much from start to finish, again, because of the solid writing, acting, and directing.
LS: That makes one of us.
MA: One question I did have about the story is why would the demon take so much interest in Michael in the first place? Michael was a skeptic who didn’t believe in the devil. Now, since this was the case, if the demon had simply left Michael alone, Michael wouldn’t even give him the time of day. Why bother? To me, the demon would have benefited by Michael remaining a skeptic.
LS: You’re wondering why the demon in this movie isn’t smarter? No one said a demon has to be smart, Michael. They aren’t forced to take IQ tests.
MA: No, I’m saying it’s a plot point in this movie that’s questionable because the demon goes after Michael, seemingly trying to get him to believe in him, which when you think about it, will only lead to Michael’s believing in God as well, which is not going to help the demon’s cause. But I guess that’s what demons do. They go after people whether they believe or not, which is actually a point Father Lucas makes in the movie.
LS: No, this is not what demons do. This is what demons do when a writer makes them do it so that we get this forced plotline of an unbeliever forced to become a believer. It’s the same old tired redemption plot we’ve seen a hundred times. I liked Michael, but I couldn’t care less if he got faith. The entire movie seems like a recruitment commercial for the Church. Maybe exorcism will look exciting and more men will sign up for the priesthood.
BABY: Yeah, a commercial. Just like there’s an obvious moment in the movie that is advertising McDonald’s.
MA: Can you two stop chit-chatting so I can finish my point? Jeesh! The demon’s focusing on Michael was counterintuitive to me . I could see the demon wanting to get back at Father Lucas, since he had performed so many exorcisms, but Michael didn’t believe to begin with.
LS: Don’t strain your brain too much about this. It’s not worth it.
MA: But all in all, I liked THE RITE a lot . I thought it was a solid piece of storytelling, well-acted, and well-written. Definitely check this one out. I give it three knives.
LS: That’s funny, because it’s almost like we saw different movies. I thought this movie was a complete bore. It moved too slow. Nothing ever goes far enough. There are no scares. I thought the acting was very good, but not good enough to save a very weak script. I thought the best scenes were when Father Trevant tries to exorcize a pregnant Italian girl (Marta Gastini). These scenes are the only ones that even come close to pushing the envelope, although they stop short before they can push us into “R” rated territory.
I wanted more from this movie. I wanted scares. There wasn’t one moment when I felt the characters were in real danger. The scenes where Hopkins’ character are possessed just seemed like a babbling old man who had lost his marbles (with some CGI lines growing on his face to look spooky). I wanted this one to really cut loose. It never does. And the pacing is just way too slow.
The direction by Mikael Hafstrom is fine, and the movie looks good. It’s the script that is the fatal flaw here. It’s just much too restrained and weak for the subject matter.
Ironically, the only good exorcism movie I’ve seen in the last ten years was THE LAST EXORCISM, which you mentioned earlier. Ironic, because that movie was also rated PG-13 and had the same limitations on what we could be shown. And yet it worked. It worked surprisingly well within its boundaries. But I’m thinking that was a fluke. I doubt we’ll see too many more PG rated exorcism movies that are any good.
MA: I completely disagree. THE RITE worked.
LS: When we’re talking about demons, we are talking about creatures capable of extreme behavior. They want to scare us. They want to shock us. Just look at the king of this genre, THE EXORCIST (1973). There’s a reason why that movie is still such an iconic classic. At the time it came out, it pushed boundaries aside with ease and gave people something they’d never seen before. it freaked people out! THE RITE offers us nothing new, nothing we haven’t seen before.
MA: Yeah, because in THE EXORCIST it’s not just a demon possessing the Linda Blair character, it’s the devil himself, and so things were supposed to be more extreme.
LS: In contrast, there is NOTHING shocking or scary about THE RITE. It’s just a showcase for good actors working with a slow, tedious, unscary script. It’ll make you sleepy! I give this movie one knife. And that’s mainly for the acting. Don’t waste your money seeing this one in a movie theater. Wait for it to come to Netflix or cable.
MA: No, no, no . Go see this one. This is exactly the kind of horror movie horror fans should be supporting . High production values, solid acting, and a decent story are all in this package. Just because it doesn’t jump out at you with traditional shock scenes doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. See it!
Well, it looks like we had very different reactions to this one.
LS: Yeah. I’m right and your wrong. That was easy enough.
MA: What’s with the right and wrong crap? I liked it, and you didn’t.
BABY: Good review, you two. But can you guys leave now? I wanna come out of my momma’s womb, and I’m shy. I don’t want you to see me naked.
MA : Shy? You haven’t shut up since you stuck your head out!
LS: We’re done anyway. Let’s go Michael. Let’s give them some privacy.
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gave THE RITE – 3 knives
LL Soares gave THE RITE – 1 knife