Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Movie Review: The Rite

So I finally saw The Rite.


Let me get a couple of things out of the way right off the bat. First, this movie has absolutely nothing to do with the book by the same name, other than they both involve exorcisms. Second, this is not a horror movie, and I'm willing to be that a lot of folks aren't going to like it simply because their expectations are for something in that genre. They will be disappointed.

Moving on to the movie itself, I will be providing some minor spoilers, so those who proceed have been warned.

As anyone can gather from the previews, this is the story of a young skeptical priest who is training to drive out demons under the guidance of an experienced exorcist. Except that the young priest isn't a priest. That's just the previews misleading the audience, but I'm probably just being overly sensitive on this point. I actually thought the acting was pretty good. Colin O'Donoghue plays the skeptic well. More than a skeptic, the character is basically an atheist, and O'Donoghue does a good job of exuding the vibe of superiority and exasperation that you tend to find in a lot of the professional unbelievers these days. The real priest's role is carried by Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins is Hopkins, so you know he isn't going to suck. While he has some really good moments in this one, he doesn't really have much to work with.

I really wanted to like this movie. However, it seemed absolutely determined to make sure that I would hate it. Within the first twenty minutes, it started producing little superfluous items that seemed to have no purpose in the film except to get on my nerves. Having a guy who isn't a priest lie about being a priest, to the detriment of a dying soul at that, only to have his lie applauded by a real priest is stupid and annoying, especially since it added nothing to the story and could have been easily portrayed in a decent manner. I wish the problems had stopped here.

The movie's real damage comes from the fact that it is almost antithetical to the basic premise of the book. The book sought to give a portrayal of exorcism that was balanced between the banality of some cases and the shock of the more extreme instances. The movie's depiction is full-on sensationalism. Having ditched what should have been the main premise, the movie pushes the sensational aspects until it renders the main characters unlikeable. O'Donoghue's skeptic looks more and more like an idiot, claiming "rational explanations" for stuff that would have made Agent Scully a believer (even Season 1 Scully). Hopkins is left looking incompetent for letting someone with no faith at all assume control of situations that clearly involve the demonic.

The need to continue pushing this envelope shoves the whole movie into absurdity by the time we reach the climax. O'Donoghue, with no faith, no training, and no ordination, sallies forth to do combat with the Forces of Hell. Why him? Because he didn't feel like he could leave the possessed guy tied up all weekend while the experienced exorcist was out of town.

No, really. That was the whole rationale. Almost verbatim. To hell (literally) with his own soul, the soul of the possessed guy, the bystanders. He just couldn't leave someone tied up for a couple of days. Or go find the other exorcist. Or ANY other exorcist. Or even a real priest.

The thing that really sucks is that this movie could have been quite good. Just sticking to some semblance of the book would have helped. The temptation to try and force it into horror-dom was just too much, I guess. What you wind up with isn't a horror movie, but instead a story about faith. That is admirable, but it's too weighted down by the stupid stuff. They should have made up their minds as to what they wanted. Trying to please both sides just wound up with a crappy movie.

I will say this. At least they show exorcisms actually working. The more famous movies dealing with this subject aren't so nice. Exorcist I? Fr. Karras takes a header out the window. Exorcist II? Richard Burton consorts with demons. Exorcist III? The exorcist is getting smacked around until George C. Scott shows up and beats the demons with bullets rather than faith. Exorcism of Emily Rose? She dies.

I'm very proud of The Rite for being a movie about the power of faith, and its role in defeating Satan's minions. I just wish there was something else to praise.

There isn't. Oh, and my wife thought it was absolutely horrible, so there's your second opinion if you think you might need one.


Aileen Ruane said...

Exceedingly glad I didn't waste my hard earned grad school stipend on this one. Cheers.

haskovec said...

I started reading the book after your book review and have to say I have been really enjoy it. Sorry to hear the movie is a dud.