The Rite starts out interestingly enough, following a young man who enters the priesthood, questioning his faith, but it soon goes straight downhill. The film appears to be an examination of religion vs. science, but ends up a cliched horror fest without much substance.
Based on the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by journalist Matt Baglio, the film follows Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue), a young man who begrudgingly enters the seminary. His spiritual leader urges the young priest to take a class on exorcism in Rome to find inspiration and faith. In Rome, he meets Rev. Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), an exorcist, who sets out to prove to Kovak that the devil exists and exorcisms are real.
Father Lucas attempts to prove this to Michael by exorcising a young pregnant woman named Rosaria (Marta Gastini). However, even after seeing the evidence of Father Lucas’ work, Michael still struggles with his beliefs, until a strange event forces the young skeptic to consider the possibility that The Devil is actually real.Hopkins plays his part exactly like his Hannibal Lector character, trying to summon the same Oscar winning performance. Only thing is, we've all seen it before and it doesn't impress this time around. It is Hopkin's performance before he's turned into a possessed, convulsing "home for demons" that's impressive - he's a caring and faithful man who truly wants to help people.
The Rite is really about Kovak, played by Colin O'Donoghue. O'Donoghue does a great job as a curious young seminarian who doesn't quite believe in the stuff he's vowing to teach. You really see his struggle to understand the difference between devil possession and mental illness. Kovak is struggling with his faith because of the loss in his own life, and it's interesting to see this played out on screen, but it's not explored in enough depth to bring this film beyond a surface level exploration of faith.
Baglio’s book is one of deep questioning of faith vs. superficial representation of exorcism. He spells out what is really going on during an exorcism and attempts to challenge Hollywood's stereotypes. But the script for the film simply takes all those superficial stereotypes and presents them one after another. The deeper questioning and sentiments of the book are lost in the film.
Director Mikael Hafstrom decided to take a great story about believers vs. non-believers and blasphemed it into a few crappy attempts at scaring audiences. It certainly reflects the PG-13 rating.
The whole movie is just one terrible horror cliche after another - and it's not even scary. It's kind of creepy and a little disturbing, but if you are looking for a jump out of your seat thriller, you're not going to find it here. The demon possession isn't even original.
The movie seems to bank on people's knowledge of the Catholic faith by throwing in theological discussions and phrasing, trying to reach out to a specific audience. It attempts to offer some "philosophical food for thought", but there are many other great films that explore this question without relying on cheap scares and grotesque representations of exorcism - it just comes across confused and insincere.
Hollywood keeps trying to recreate the genius of the original Exorcist - and The Rite doesn't even come close.