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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 04
Håfström's Rite goes terribly wrong
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Håfström's Rite goes terribly wrong

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Rite
Opening January 21


About two-thirds of the way through director Mikael Håfström's (1408, Derailed) The Rite, I was prepared to cut this biblical exorcism thriller some slack. Sure it was obvious and over-familiar. Yes, it didn't have an original bone in its body. But for whatever reason, I wasn't hating it, and though I wasn't ever scared, there was more than enough going on to keep me from total boredom thanks to some solidly creepy bits and a delightfully flamboyant performance by Anthony Hopkins.

But things change with roughly 20 minutes to go. The film suddenly gets laughably silly, filled with some of the most cliché and stilted dialogue I've ever had the displeasure to come across. At a certain point, a driven and slightly jaded journalist (played with icy indifference by the usually reliable Alice Braga) begins imploring the main character, a disillusioned priest-in-training named Michael (Colin O'Donoghue), to look inside himself, regain his faith in God, and realize he was brought to where he is now for some sort of divine reason. What she says is so drenched in melodramatic platitudes, so unintentionally ludicrous, it was all I could do to keep myself from breaking out into fits of laughter right there in the middle of the movie theatre, and a few of my fellow critics had the exact same problem.

To say Michael Petroni's script (Queen of the Damned) goes off the rails would be a colossal understatement. To say that Håfström amplifies these faults to a stratospheric degree would be an even bigger one. He allows Hopkins to fly completely off the handle and lets him channel his inner Hannibal Lecter in a way that's idiotic and silly. The director piles on the music, the lighting effects, and the showy camera moves in a way that's not just wrong, it's bizarrely asinine.

The story itself is simple enough. Michael has just completed his studying at seminary school but his lack of faith has led him to believe taking up the priesthood would be a bad idea. But a teacher, Father Matthew (Toby Jones), convinces him to take a two-month class on exorcism at the Vatican taught by the esteemed Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds), thinking it might change his mind. There he comes into contact with Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), a noted exorcist with his own idiosyncratic ways of dealing with the unknown and potentially supernatural.

Even though the film tells us upfront that it is 'inspired' by actual events, the whole thing feels like hogwash. From Trevant's handling of an exorcism concerning a pregnant teenager to his and Michael's dealings with a young boy who has seen a red-eyed mule who tells him ominous things about the future to the potential priest's daddy issues (a poorly utilized Rutger Hauer), there's little here we haven't seen before. Heck, the movie even comments on its own The Exorcist origins, Father Trevant making a joke about twisting heads and pea soup just in case viewers hadn't noticed the numerous similarities.

The thing is, as routine as it is, it's all presented in a solid, matter-of-fact manner that's not terrible. Both O'Donoghue and Hopkins are fine, and with supporting players like Hinds and Jones in the mix, there's always the potential for them to do something interesting. Håfström lets things play out relatively straight, and the film is handsomely photographed by Ben Davis (Kick-Ass) and seamlessly edited by David Rosenbloom (The Insider). I wasn't exactly having the best of times, but I could completely understand if the remainder of the preview audience was, everything so above-board and competently constructed I was finding little to whine and moan about.

Then comes the final act. Everything falls apart to such an extent it would almost be impressive if it weren't so damnably annoying. Nothing works, and even worse, you get the feeling that the director and his two stars knew it. It's like all of them conspired together to come up with as many outlandish ways as possible to hide this disintegration, the trio engaged in an excessive cover-up in order to try and change water into wine.

I'm not saying The Rite was ever going to be a movie I'd have felt comfortable about recommending. It's too obvious and familiar, and goes through the exorcism thriller motions far too much. Yet for a while there I wasn't going to blast it, either, and until the disastrous climax I'd have been perfectly fine giving it a lukewarm pass. But that simply cannot happen, and the truth is that thanks to its putrid final third, Håfström's latest is unintentionally laughable and as close to as pure a waste of time as anything so far this year.

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