The Rite (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Rite (2011)

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Danny DISLIKESlowly but surely, we, as a nation, are experiencing a resurgence of films about exorcism. The Exorcist: Dominion arguably kicked this off, though The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last Exorcism both made enough money to keep these pictures a quiet, cheap, and rewarding venture.

What about exorcism has recaptured the imagination of our nation? Is it because it's a religious idea, one that strikes closer to home than vampires or other relatively cheesy monsters? Is it appealing because it's an anonymous force, something that could happen to anyone-- and in that case, does it frighten us more because we could be the victims or because we're close to someone who could be? Is it because exorcism is a nebulous area in religious lore that can play on anyone's fears? Or is it because films about exorcism usually contain wholly conservative values played straight that American audiences like to wallow in like cheap beer?

All of these questions are steadfastly ignored in The Rite, but I suppose that's because the movie wants to entertain much more than say anything of much value or worth. Based on true events (namely, one guy in the Catholic church said that every parish was installing an exorcist and the next day the church said, "Hey, that guys a friggin' idiot, don't listen to him."), we follow young Michael Kovak as he leaves his family's mortuary business and enters the seminary.

The only real problem here is that Michael is an atheist. He only went to seminary to get away from being a mortician, and finds on the eve of his finals that he can't commit to taking his vows.

He also can't be assed to be an interesting character in any way.

But wait! Here's where God jumps in to bump us into Act Two. As he's making his way away from a caring priest who wants to talk him out of his decision to drop out, the priest trips and causes a bicyclist to get mowed down by a van. Michael runs over and the cyclist begs him to read her the last rites. Can he do it, even though he lacks the faith? And then there's rain, and thunder, and lightning, and it's all so very cinematic.

The spaz professor who just killed a cyclist confronts Michael the next day: okay, so you don't have any goddamn faith. You want some goddamn faith? You're going to Italy to study at the Vatican. There you will be taught in the ways of the exorcist.

Why? Well, the movie says that there are more reports of exorcisms, so the Vatican is simply responding to the demand. This is a fascinating subject, because why would the claims of exorcisms go up-- are more happening? Is this the spiritual end times? Or, more close to reality, maybe the church is just listening to all these wackos and responding to their loony demands because it's easier to appeal to the slightly more hysterical crowd than to modernize and face the reality that the way people deal with and treat their faith has been evolving. Hell, or maybe it just speaks to the fact that exorcisms are a highly marketable notion as opposed to the barrage of pedophilia scandals the church seems embroiled in.

So Michael goes to Italy (hey, I'm an atheist, send me to the Vatican, too), and he still has no faith. He begins learning under the guy who played Gaius Caesar in "Rome" and we discover fun things like the Vatican has really fancy projector technology, and, for some reason, there is a reporter doing lengthy reports on this top-secret exorcism class.

Her name is Angeline (!), and she has a sweet charm that makes Michael almost forget that he's boring as dirt. While I'm sure we can all have a chuckle that many of the demons in the movie are treated with gentler gloves than a magazine journalist, her function in the plot is mainly as someone for Michael to talk to about how silly all of this is.

And when I say Michael is boring as dirt, I mean, Christ, the guy goes to Rome and finds a McDonalds. And has a McCafe. Thanks for turning that logo on the cup towards us, buddy.

Hey, isn't Anthony Hopkins in this movie?

But wait! Anthony Hopkins shows up about a half an hour into the movie. Hopkins, who is currently following the "Ben Kingsley Career Path Towards Having Your Oscar Revoked"(TM), gives his all as an older eccentric exorcist that Michael is told to shadow. His character glimmers with the hope that he may actually make something interesting happen in the movie, but not so much. He has a few nice words to say, but Michael is such a black hole of bland that Hopkins barely escapes with his dignity intact.

I'm bashing on Michael quite a bit, but I know there's a reason why the poor guy, despite being the son of a mortician who saw his father kissing all over his dead mother, is so decidedly uninteresting. Michael is a blank, as his narrative progression-- from skeptic to believer-- is supposed to be identical to that of the audience. By the end, we're supposed to want to jump and say, "Look out demons, I will chant in Latin at you, and I'm not afraid to do it!"

It doesn't really work. Michael can't be that blank-- no one can stand around looking that unemotional all the time. It's scarier than any of the exorcism stuff.

Another brief note. My experience with films about exorcism is that they usually and unmistakably dehumanize the women they portray. The victims are usually pretty young innocent girls who suddenly and irrevocably start disobeying their parents, doing weird sexual acts, and hating the church. Because these girls are hitting puberty possessed by a demon, their responsible parents must bring in noble, chaste men to lord over them and force them to rediscover the word of God.

Marta Gastini plays the young woman who Hopkins and that bland Michael guy spend the second act trying to save, and her role is so completely thankless it's beyond words. She must creep and crawl, talk in different languages, and be a slut and a nut at the same time. The fact that she manages to play this with a straight face is remarkable, so bravo to her for being able to run through a few deadly sins while not being completely unbelievable.

Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins is still in this movie.

Angeline, the journalist from above, tries to tempt Michael into letting her talk to Anthony Hopkins (or the character he plays, it's hard to tell which), and while she somehow remains unpossessed, I think it's safe to classify her as a dink. We get a brief shot of the article she writes at the end of the movie, and it was definitely not brief enough, I can tell you that.

So does Anthony Hopkins teach Virginia that, yes, exorcists are real? Does it come to a showdown between the dueling men? Does Michael find his faith, as should the audience? Do we get cheap title cards to try and further entice you that exorcism is real and perhaps you should go to church? Is the first jump scare of this movie seriously just someone throwing a cat at a window for no apparent reason?

Whatever. I'm just surprised the end credits didn't list it as a production of the SyFy Channel. I guess even they have their limits.

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Posted by Danny

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