Truly terrifying movies rarely grace the big screen these days because of over-cooked turkeys like “The Rite.”
Inspired by Matt Baglio’s book, this adaptation doesn’t take its source material seriously either. Inundated with a ghastly mix of drama and unintentional comedy, director Mikael Håfström’s latest film belongs in purgatory.
Supposedly based on true events, “The Rite” is immensely unrealistic because of its emotionally inept performances and over-the-top visual effects. The film follows American Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), a deacon who is second-guessing the clergy. He travels to Rome to take part in an exorcist-training course at the Vatican. Here, Kovak meets Rev. Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), one of the most sought after exorcists in the Roman Catholic Church, who becomes his mentor and an unlikely friend. But when Trevant becomes possessed himself, Kovak must summon what faith he has left to defeat the devil within Trevant.
Just like his character who lacks religion, O’Donoghue comes up short with his acting. Though O’Donoghue is technically the star of the movie, the more well-known Hopkins gets more credit for his performance. Instead of embracing his role, O’Donoghue floats through the film with dumbfounded facial expressions that make him seem lost in his own part. Kovak’s impish nature also makes his character unpleasant. He couldn’t care less about being invited to the Vatican and has a poor habit of talking back to his priestly mentors. Even Hopkins fails to raise hell in “The Rite” as he did in his celebrated portrayal of cannibal Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Piggybacking on his great reputation to ill effect, Hopkins fails to bring any edginess to his role as Trevant.
The film’s inconsistent visual style is mind-boggling. Every breathtaking shot of Rome is paralleled with weak computer-generated effects that seem like the work of an amateur. But cinematographer Ben Davis’ cold, heavily-stylized technique is the sole reason why the movie doesn’t completely flop. Davis doesn’t rely on typically over-filmed historic monuments like the Roman Colosseum to please viewers. Instead, he brings out the city’s past by sharply focusing on every crack and crevice in ancient buildings. The audience visually connects to this world, but unfortunately it is not enough to save the picture’s nonsensical plot.
It’s apparent from the opening scene that screenwriter Michael Petroni has no sense of cinematic storytelling. With poorly crafted dialogue and a plot that unravels like a ball of yarn, there are no memorable moments or characters. Also contributing to “The Rite’s” laundry list of failures is composer Alex Heffes’ score. The music is moody and timely, yet it fails to haunt audiences watching a soulless movie. Heffes’ score is a cheap copy of other exorcism movies, most notably the bloodcurdling music of 1973’s “The Exorcist.”
Whether theatergoers are religious or not, it’s obvious Håfström’s poor direction mocks the real-life and well-intentioned work of Kovak and Trevant. Hopefully Håfström will spare future audiences from a sequel, because another one of his films would truly be sinful.
“The Rite” was written by Michael Petroni, adapted from Matt Baglio’s book and directed by Mikael Håfström.
1 out of 4 stars