The Rite (2011) directed by Mikael Hafstrom seems to be a story about demonic possession and a typical horror film in the “exorcist” genre. But there’s more going on beneath the surface of this interesting drama. Colin O’Donoghue stars as Michael Kovak, a young Catholic who works as a mortician in his father’s business. He feels something is missing in his life (and his faith), so he enters the seminary. He doesn’t find the answers he’s seeking as he studies for the priesthood. After his ordination, he writes a letter of resignation to his superior, stating his intent to leave the priesthood.
But Father Matthew (nicely played by Toby Jones) talks him out of leaving; he feels Michael is truly called to be a priest. He asks that Michael consider going to Rome and taking a course on exorcism before making his final decision. The church is making an effort to train more exorcists, as incidences of alleged demonic possession are on the rise. Michael agrees and heads to Rome. He takes the class, taught by a Father Xavier, who, seeing the conflict within Michael, sends him to speak with his friend Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a renowned exorcist. He wants Michael to see there is real evil in the world.
Father Lucas has Michael sit in on an exorcism he performs (in a chilling scene), and even though Michael still has his doubts about the veracity of what he sees, he continues to visit with Father Lucas, until his faith is tested in ways he doesn’t expect. Hopkins, as usual, is excellent as the priest/exorcist, who has some belief issues of his own. Alice Braga is solid in a supporting role as a reporter who is also taking the class, and becomes involved with Michael’s search for faith & redemption. Rutger Hauer shines in a small role as Michael’s father.
When The Rite came out in winter 2011, it was marketed & sold as a horror film, playing up the more supernatural elements of the story, But this is really a film about faith, belief & redemption; though it does have horror-themed elements, they’re not played for the sensational, and are an integral part of the story. That’s not to say there aren’t some scary scenes here for fans of the genre; but this is a solid, well-acted (especially by Hopkins) film, that tells a thoughtful story about faith, redemption & how our own doubts can open the door to our darker natures. The movie is based on the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio, which tells the real life story of Father Gary Thomas, the model for the Michael Kovak character. It’s worth a look, whether you’re looking for a scary rental for Halloween, or a nicely done film about the nature of faith.