Judge Gordon Sullivan once studied the wrongs.
You can only defeat it when you believe.
Demons and demonology have been around for millennia, but as the scientific and industrial ages wound their way around the world, many of the more supernatural aspects of religions and other belief systems was replaced by a scientific skepticism, at least in the West. Then, the worldwide hit of The Exorcist broke the dam, demonstrating that belief in evil was not out of step with modern medicine and science could still not claim to explain everything. As the impact of that landmark horror film has reverberated throughout the culture, no one has felt it more keenly than the Catholic Church, a church which must acknowledge the palpable reality of the Devil while not losing sight of the fact that credibility must be maintained in the face of a public increasingly reliant on scientific answer to questions that were previously the province of faith. To walk this fine line, the Church founded an exorcism school in an attempt to both continue its commitment to fighting evil in the world while also avoiding the taint of superstition with an update of the ritual. This resulted in a book, The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, a non-fiction account of the exorcism school. From the stories contained in that nonfiction book, we get The Rite, a religious thriller that offers a few thrills but will likely leave most audiences a little cold.
Facts of the Case
The Rite follows Michael Kovac (Colin O'Donoghue, The Clinic), the scion of a mortuary owner. When Michael does not want to follow in his father's footsteps, he decides to join the seminary to escape. Although he's not a man of faith, he gets through his four years, but attempts to resign before taking his final vows. A sympathetic priest won't accept the resignation, and instead sends Michael to Rome to participate in the exorcism school. There, Michael's skepticism doesn't not impress his instructors, so he's offered the option of a more hands-on approach with an introduction to experience exorcist Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins, Titus). With Father Lucas, Michael will learn the rites and test his faith.
You would be forgiven for imagining that The Rite was a supernatural thriller all about the horrors of the possessed, much like the previously mentioned The Exorcist. It's got all the necessary elements: the experienced and world-weary priest, the younger priest struggling with his faith, lots of shots of the possessed, and that wonderfully creepy and exotic location of Rome. But sadly, The Rite is not as advertised. Sure, it's got all the ingredients for a crackling supernatural thriller, but somebody botched the recipe. Instead of a thriller, The Rite is actually a coming of age tale for Michael. We follow him from his humble, relatively loveless home assisting his father in the mortuary until he asserts his independence in the seminary. From there we follow him to his surrogate father in Father Lucas, and when Lucas falls victim to the demons they're both fighting, Michael must discover his true faith while finding himself.
As a coming of age sort of tale, The Rite isn't horrible. Michael is given a decent, though trite, back story (the dead mother is just an excuse for a few creepy scenes and isn't developed nearly well enough), and Father Lucas is the perfect surrogate father with his gruff manner but obviously deep love. The problem is that the more supernatural or horror elements get in the way of this story. If the movie is in fact about Michael and his journey of faith, then the spooky jump scares and the possibility that Michael could become possessed are just red herrings, throwing us off the trail of the film's emotional center.
If, on the other hand, the film is meant to be scary, it fails pretty badly. Certainly there are some good makeup effects, a couple of creepy shots, but overall the film can't maintain any sense of dread. Sure the idea of demons is a scary one, and I for one would not want to be possessed, but that doesn't mean the filmmakers can lie down on the job and let the thought of demons scare the audience. Instead, we get shots of a red-eyed mule (the goofiest incarnation of the Devil I've seen outside a cartoon) and some bumpy frogs.
Despite the problems with film's story, the Blu-ray presentation is generally solid. This is an unsurprisingly dark film, and for the most part that darkness is handled well. Sometimes the blacks can get a bit blocky and detail gets lost in darker scenes, but the rest of the AVC encoded transfer is spot on. Detail is generally very sharp, and colors look both bold and appropriate. The 5.1 DTS-HD track can match the film's excellent visuals. The dialogue comes clearly though the center channel, while the surrounds are mainly saved for the film's excellent use of atmospheric effects.
Extras start with a short (7 minute) featurette that looks at some of the real-life inspiration for the film, including both characters and locations (like the real exorcism school). It's a bit short and could stand to be less clip-heavy, but it does provide some nice background for the film. We also get an alternate ending that adds an extra couple of shots to try to up the "chill factor," as well as 13 minutes of deleted scenes that add some extra characters moments. This release also includes a DVD and Digital Copy of the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Rite is probably not a good movie for the horror crowd, but Christian (especially Catholic) viewers might be less immune to its charms. First, the film is ultimately about Michael finding his faith, which is a pretty easy sell to most Christian audiences. It's also more likely that the faithful will believe in (and therefore find scary) the idea of demonic possession, which make the film's mix of horror and drama work a little better. It's still not a great movie, but there's potential for the right audience.
The Rite is not, as it would seem at first, an Exorcist ripoff, nor is it really a supernatural thriller. Its dramatic, character-driven moments get in the way of the horror, while the horror elements interrupt the character arcs, leaving the film unsatisfying on any level. This Blu-ray disc does a fine job presenting the film, but it's hard to recommend more than a rental for most viewers.
The Rite gets too much wrong: guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Alternate Ending
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