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A veteran priest clutches a worn leather bag. He’s accompanied by a younger assistant experiencing a crisis of faith. Together, they attempt to exorcise a demon from a troubled young woman.
No, it’s not William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic The Exorcist, but rather The Rite, its latest rip-off, excuse me, variation, albeit a glossier and more starrier example than the recent surprise hit The Last Exorcism. “Inspired by true events” — it’s a wonder that these incidents never seem to make the news — this entry doesn’t bring anything particularly fresh to the shopworn genre, although it does offer the opportunity for Anthony Hopkins to entertainingly chew plenty of scenery.
Newcomer Colin O’Donoghue plays seminary student Michael Kovak, who abandons his father’s (Rutger Hauer) undertaking business to enter seminary school. Although filled with self-doubt, he’s spotted as having great potential by his mentor (Toby Jones), who sends him to the Vatican to apprentice with Father Lucas (Hopkins), a priest specializing in exorcisms using his own unorthodox methods.
Assisting Father Lucas in a case involving a pregnant teenage girl, the skeptical Michael insists that her physical manifestations are merely the result of psychological issues. But — prompted by visions of plagues of frogs and a horse with very bloodshot eyes, among other things — it isn’t long before he becomes a believer. When Father Lucas himself begins to show signs of demonic possession, it leads to a climactic showdown in which the student is forced to become the master.
The unhurriedly paced film begins compellingly enough, especially in the quietly intense scenes detailing Michael’s troubled relationship with his father and his own religious uncertainty. But like so many other examples of its genre, The Rite becomes more ludicrous as it goes along, with more than a few lines of dialogue from Michael Petroni’s over-the-top screenplay eliciting unintended titters.
Particularly laughable is the final exorcism sequence, in which Hopkin’s red-faced, bug-eyed Father Lucas begins to resemble John Boehner having a particularly nasty hissy fit. Not helping matters is the fact that the possessed priest’s taunting of his foes is delivered in the same nastily seductive tones the actor employed for Hannibal Lecter’s similar mind games.
Although more reminiscent of Jason Patric than the truly haunted-looking Jason Miller in the original Exorcist, O’Donoghue makes a strong feature debut, delivering a solidly credible characterization. Director Mikael Hafstrom (1408) has also elicited fine performances from the fine supporting cast, which also includes Ciaran Hinds as a Vatican priest and Alice Braga as a journalist who gets more than she bargained for.
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