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Inspired by true events, this supernatural thriller follows a seminary student Colin O’Donoghue sent to study exorcism at the Vatican in spite of his own doubts about the controversial practice and even his own faith. Only when sent to apprentice with legendary Father Lucas Anthony Hopkins, who has performed thousand of exorcisms, does his armor of skepticism begin to fall. Drawn into a troubling case that transcends even Father Lucas’s skill, the young seminarian glimpses a phenomenon science can’t explain or control – and an evil so violent and terrifying that it forces him to question everything he believes.
Anthony Hopkins is a veteran exorcist who shows a novice the tricks of the trade, so to speak, in The Rite, a decidedly sober supernatural thriller about demonic possession that stands in stark contrast to the gymnastic pyrotechnics of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last Exorcism. Colin O'Donoghue is the new-minted priest with a truckload of familial baggage as a boy, father Rutger Hauer showed him his mother's corpse shortly before preparation in the family's funeral business and a sincere crisis of faith. His adviser Ciarán Hinds ships him off to Rome, where he studies under Hopkins, who treats the dismissal of evil forces like a not particularly strenuous therapy session. But when a young pregnant woman turns up with a nasty case of the Devil inside, the tables are quickly turned, and O'Donoghue is forced to ply his training in an actual confrontation with demonic forces. Director Mikael Håfström has an extraordinary visual eye for malevolence in architecture, and his pacing and restraint in delivering full-bore shocks are admirable. Unfortunately, the result is somewhat stillborn, never quite fulfilling its promise as a thinking person's exorcism film, and instead hoping that meaningful glances and mounting shadows will suffice as atmosphere. Hopkins is also restrained in his performance, which works in its early stages--his post-Silence of the Lambs roles have hinged so often on operatic rages that one forgets what a subtle actor he can be--but falters in his later scenes, which require him to deliver the film's central chills. The Rite is a notable effort that simply doesn't translate beyond the page. --Paul Gaita