Although there is debate as to the genre, “The Rite” packs thrills and dark subject matter into a religious film some feel qualifies as horror. Colin O’Donoghue portrays Michael Kovak, an American man whose family insists he become either a mortician or a priest. Rejecting his father (Rutger Hauer) and his preparations of the dead, Michael instead takes religious instructions at St. Osmund. After becoming a Deacon, Michael tries to withdraw from the priesthood, but his mentor, Father Mathew (Toby Jones) encourages him to take a prestigious two month course about exorcism in Vatican City instead. Father Mathew further explains Michael’s academic scholarship could be converted to over one hundred thousand dollars of student loan debt if he did not take the opportunity. “I see potential in you,” Father Mathew explained, pointing to Michael’s calm and lack of squeamishness. He compliments Michael’s handling of an accident victim’s request for last rites.
Michael travels to Rome and meets teacher Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds), a reporter named Angela (Alice Braga) seeking an understanding of possession, and Father Lucas (the impeccable Anthony Hopkins), a Welsh Jesuit exorcist. Michael struggles with his faith. He rationalizes apparent possessions, including that of Rosaria (Marta Gastini), a sixteen-year-old who became possessed when her father raped and impregnated her. Father Lucas enlists Michael’s aid in exorcising the girl, but unable to discover the demon’s name, Rosaria remained in its power. After she attempts to kill herself, she’s institutionalized, miscarries, and dies. Consumed by guilt, Father Lucas became possessed and turns to Michael (and Angela) to perform the exorcism. Michael battles his own doubt, believes in the supernatural, and saves the man from the demon Baal.
“Demons are the Devil’s foot soldiers,” and knowing their names gives exorcists power over them. “The Rite” provides a dark, atmospheric, and authentic look into an ancient religious ritual. Several scenes leap from their gloom to make viewers startle as well. Adapted from a true story by Matt Baglio by Michael Petroni, director Mikael Hafstrom released his film on 28 January, 2011. Although it does not feature vomited “pea soup,” “The Rite” does deliver regurgitation of palm-length nails, impressive contortions, and dark makeup transformations. Anthony Hopkins’ performance shone, and although his accent slipped several times, Colin O’Donoghue’s portrayal of conflict rang true. There were several untranslated scenes in Italian. Although they added to the feel, not understanding entirely what transpired annoyed me. The movie unfolds with methodical realization that some viewers find plodding but which mirrors the main character’s path of understanding.