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I canʼt tell you the last horror movie I went to see in the the-ay-ter, but I used to eat them for breakfast. I was an “Evil Dead 2″/”Re-animator”/”Fright Night” guy. Had I kept on that trajectory…well, think Kevin Smith with a subscription to Slasher. Instead, I became a priest. So when I saw the ﬁrst previews for “The Rite”, my ﬁrst instinct was to chuckle condescendingly. After all, exorcisms? Really? Are we still on this? If people believed in exorcisms, wouldnʼt there be more people in the pews on Sundays? And if they donʼt, then why would they see this movie?
The truth is, this is actually a pretty decent run at a movie. The story is weak, and the characters are fairly one-dimensional, but it produced far less cringe-worthy moments than I was expecting. Our protagonist cleric, Michael (Colin OʼDonoghue, very easy on the eyes), is a novice priest. Heʼs not even a priest, actually. Heʼs apparently graduated seminary but has doubts about the vocation of priesthood. The church essentially blackmails him into a program for exorcists, an ironic spot for someone who doesnʼt really believe in God, much less the churchʼs rigid stance on things.
In Rome, he is mentored by Lucas (played in Hannibaltastic fashion by Sir Anthony Hopkins) who has been around the Devilʼs block a time or two. Michael and
Lucas go back and forth about the existence and causes of sin and evil, which provide some decent if shallow questions about the world in which we live. Is the Devil real? Do demons possess people? To what end? Well, OK, they donʼt really tackle that question, but Michael is quick to offer plausible, scientiﬁc, psychological rationales for what the church calls demonic possession. He wonders why there seems to be a rush to claim possession at the expense of getting psychological help for the subjects.
The horror is mostly derived from sudden, shocking moments and not from the true nature of evil. Aside from having to wrestle with dark, hidden secrets from their pasts, the actors donʼt struggle at all with the dread of living in a world where good and evil are intertwined. The best exorcism movies (“The Exorcist”, “Emily Rose”) do better to build the suspense and allow the terror of possession cast a long pall over everything. As Lucas relates early in the ﬁlm, possession and exorcism take a long time. Yet in this ﬁlm, things are tidied up in a relatively short amount of time and you arenʼt taken to very many places where you didnʼt expect to go.
I believe that the ﬁlmmakers want to leave you ten dollars poorer and asking yourself not if you believe in the Devil or possession, but do you believe in the power of God to stop it. As a human being, I know thereʼs plenty of evil in the world. Does it really matter where itʼs coming from? I knew a young man once in Washington, DC who came to me saying that his family was practicing Santeria and that he was really afraid of physical harm. At that point, it didnʼt matter whether I thought his family was nuts, or whether he was making it up, we tried to help him. Isnʼt it all, to some degree, what you believe?
Some nagging thoughts:
• I really hope the Catholic Church isnʼt placing an exorcist in each diocese. They really need a litigator and a sexual abuse prevention ofﬁcer. Oh, and female priests.
• My college roommate who is a Roman Catholic priest in Chicago had six years, not four, of seminary. In the Episcopal Church, our seminary training was three years. Not sure where they got four years from.
• You think our weather is fucked? In Rome, it can rain and be sunny in the same minute.
• The symbolism is a little heavy-handed. Be warned. The Ts as crosses in the opening credits reminded me that this was a movie about BELIEF and THE CHURCH. Rain=bad things. Sun=less bad things. Itʼs like symbolism for dummies.
Directed by: Mikael Håfström
Release Date: January 28, 2010
Run Time: 112 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures