Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Rite (2011)

A man's struggle with the immaterial

A mortician's son named Michael wants to pick a different career path away from his father and heads to seminary school to become a priest. He aces psychology and art history but not theology. He decides that after four years he has a lack of faith and sends in his resignation. Before it can be turned in he says last vows to a dying woman and his superior Father Matthew wants him to stay on for another purpose that he might be just right for. He heads to Rome to take a course on exorcism due to the church receiving an alarming number of reports. After viewing the class with some derision, the teacher sends him over to a Father Lucas who's approach is unorthodox and matter-of-fact, but still honest when need be to deal with Michael's questioning, logical mind. Rather than tell with a verbal lecture, he shows right from the moment Michael arrives with a pregnant teenage girl that appears to him as someone with a clear case of mental health. The younger priest-to-be is still skeptical despite evidence before his eyes, yet he keeps returning to see more of the mysterious man who might be the real deal or someone who acts like one so his clients maintain their faith and not go elsewhere for help.

This starts out like a drama, turns into something of a psychological film with some thrills and chills regarding the potential existence of demons, then turns over to a climactic closer when someone close comes down with something and the person at hand has to finally answer a nagging question. Instead of producing a puzzling mystery with enough layers to keep a viewer guessing, this spreads out its plot elements and typically takes on one aspect at a time as it progresses, ending up revealing its formula in the process. That storytelling approach makes this feel more like a luring system till the final scene that has all of its bases covered of what they'll refer to up to that point, rather than a naturally evolving storyline. No one wants a confusing or conflicting film, but I'd be willing to bet others don't want things unraveled so orderly either. In one sense it takes deep subjects and delivers them somewhat easy and unmuddled, yet not always as an engrossing challenge. The performances come with their charms and some street talk despite their holy personas to give a real sense. Anthony Hopkins' captures the screen with a performance that often comes with guesses as to where he stands and he's able to handle the different sides without a hitch. Colin O'Donoghue does the part with some conviction whether it be a logical side or lowering his defensive guard, even if he's shuffled from one place to another in the script. Alice Braga plays Michael's friend whom he shares his thoughts but also reveals who she really is and what she's searching for. His teachers are capable of acting like authentic people either by being lenient and reasonable, to being strict and commanding.

At times the transitions feel too smooth and the answers in the story laid out before the viewer gets time to take them in or throw out guesses themselves, which somewhat limits its participation value. It attempts to be a thinking-person's movie rather than a straight horror/thriller but doesn't always give more to contemplate on during its duration despite its gradual pacing that seems more for tone and mood to make omens and signs match when they come around. This follows Michael rather than mainly the exorcism itself, so essentially its main relating points are targeted more so at that person who straddles the fence on the subject, and the believer getting some validation, though the unbeliever left more to the wayside. So you get a character based film with some horror tacked on for reasons of entertainment and to loosen up the viewer to give an ear for the subject matter, rather than the other way around like "The Exorcist" that's also about losing faith...and possibly scaring it back into you with everything it's got. In that respect this is handled with more tact on the subject than the usual suspects with films dealing with possession.

"The Rite" can be looked at like a man on a religious journey to finding faith, but part of it can still be looked at as someone who does anything without a driving passion or purpose, kind of riding between places until something powerful comes along to question why you're doing what you're doing in the first place. Fighting with half a heart is a sure way to get defeated is the message, because others are going to come around to take that away just because they can. Though it's not to the lengths of watching a sports movie about, say, US football with a player who has the talent and no driving point, as you can usually not be a fan of the sport to see where they're coming from. Usually those films are about the emotional impact surrounding the subject, while "The Rite" reveals more of its inner playbook than tiptoeing around for more relating points to outsiders looking in, which can make the film at points feel a little distant by coming with more of a specific purpose.

Rating: 6.5/10

Director: Mikael Hafstrom (Drowning Ghost, 1408)
Stars: Colin O'Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins, Alice Braga, Ciaran Hinds, Rutger Hauer, Toby Jones
Link: IMDB

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