Horror has officially returned in 2011 in the form of Mikael Håfström's PG-13 offering, The Rite. A film that will have the devil haunting your dreams...in a PG-13 sort of way. I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing if you enjoy your horror subdued and not particularly all that scary.
Let us begin our first theatrical film experience for the new decade..shall we?
What follows is inspired by true events.
I...for one, am growing tired of this beaten to death cliché in horror film. The "true story" approach. Some films aren't even true...they just put in that goddamn line to give it that little extra hollow scare. Now don't get me wrong, if given the certain atmosphere with an eerie musical score and unexpected scares, the "true story" approach could be effective. I was watching a couple episodes of A Haunting on the Discovery Channel this morning and found myself clutching my duvet cover. The score for The Rite felt a little less eerie and more action drama...so, I never really felt threatened by the entire film.
The film opens with a creepy embalming of a young female with a devil tattoo on her ankle. It has just the right amount of uncomfortable menace that sets the tone for the film and washes the "true events" cliché down the drain...although the devil tattoo kind of makes it all silly looking. We are introduced to Michael Kovak in this scene, played with just the right amount of self doubt by Colin O'Donoghue. He is a young man who stands at a crossroads in his life. Take over the family mortuary run by his father, played by a severely underused Rutger Hauer, or follow the advice of his dead mother and enter the priesthood. He opts for the cloth. Speaking of underused, I wish we could've seen more of Chris Marquette as Michael's comic relief buddy. I loved him in Fanboys and Just Friends.
So, anyway, Michael enjoys priesthood for four years and decides that it isn't for him, so he writes a letter of resignation from the church...only to be sent to Rome to study the rite of exorcism on the suggestion of some odd-looking priest named Father Mathew after a freak rainy bicycle accident shows Michael's true potential for the faith.
Much like this review, the film takes a little while to actually get going. Usually, I'm all for the slow build to the eventual horror to come but, this film sometimes felt like an eternity in terms of pacing. Especially when there aren't all that many real scares in the whole film. Eventually, the top billed star shows up to break up the monotony the film was suffering from in the form of Father Lucas Trevant, played perfectly by Anthony Hopkins. I know I usually give Hopkins shit for playing the same fucking character in every movie, but here he is impeccably cast as the intuitive Yoda to Michael's padwan. The film finally starts to pick up once Hopkins enters the scene and we are given a taste of our first real exorcism. We are also given a taste of the first real problems of this horror attempt. The trappings of the PG-13 rating. A very pregnant Rosaria drops by Father Lucas' place for a midday exorcism session...and it isn't much more impressive than we saw in the underwhelming The Last Exorcism. Our fears are stroked and heavily petted with a promise for the real thing to show up at times, but nothing is really taken anywhere and we are left, instead, with horror blue balls. In fact, most of the "scares" come by way of the classically dumb "cat jump" and loud film score. It's really a shame, because after the almost great 1408, Håfström has shown that he can deliver the subtle scare with just tone and atmosphere alone. AND...that film was PG-13, too.
The Rite could have been a great little film had it concentrated on the really scary elements. Anthony Hopkins wears evil like a velvet suit, however, here it just seems like a lot of posturing with no real threat of anything evil or scary. Great actors are just squandered and never really given any good material to flex their artistic talent. Ciarán Hinds walks around the entire film in a robe seeming really important but ultimately to what degree?? He's an incredible talent and should have been used for much more than just a class lecturer. I don't even want to talk more about the great Rutger Hauer who is just reduced to about 3 minutes of screen time.
The film sort of plays out like a recruitment film for young exorcists. Even the exorcism scenes aren't really given the power they deserve. Instead we are treated to disturbing joint-cracking horror, which is ok...it's just not the supernatural demonic possession I grew up with. In a film about the demon Baal, you would think there would be scenes of extreme malevolence. Well, not in this PG-13 affair. Instead we are treated to goofy McDonald's plugs and cellphone humor to alleviate whatever terror might have existed. There's a classic scene in The Exorcist III that involves an empty hallway, a nurse, and a cloaked ominous figure walking fast with a pair of shears. Nothing else. There's no blood...there's nothing. The scene could very well be given a G rating if not for the horror content. However, that one little scene is so full of atmosphere and perfect pacing, it is seriously scarier than anything The Rite could ever hope to offer. Had The Rite been filled with more stuff like that, we would be praising this little film instead of yawning about it.
Alice Braga shows up as the female lead. And that's not a bad thing. Would've been nice to see Baal have one of those hentai tentacle scenes with her. But, no....did I mention? PG-13?
Anyway, The Rite isn't a bad film. It's just not that scary and not as good as it could have been given the talent behind it. I was ready to be scared out of my fucking wits. When I first saw the trailers I thought I was going to be entering into Exorcist territory. Sadly, if felt more like Exorcism of Emily Rose territory. That teasing of something darker and scarier only to be given a mediocre attempt at horror.
The first horror film of 2011 isn't a scream...it's more like a whimper.
6 out of 10.
Thanks for reading,
Btw...thanks to Horrorbles for the advanced screening!