The Rite - The human obsession with possession

The Rite - Demonic possession thriller bogged down by script

Latest in line of films exploring possession of the body, spirit and soul

To mark the release of The Rite, Ian Hoey celebrates our obsession with possession

We know that modern society is obsessed with ownership – fancy electrical goods, high fashion and general clutter. But there’s another form of possession with which people have been obsessed for a very long time. It’s possession of the body, the spirit and perhaps the soul.

Cinema has thrown up endless ways for a person to become possessed and a huge list of those that are prepared to do the possessing. Think of Vertigo, Audrey Rose and The Innocents. Home may be where the heart is but it can also be where the possession is, as illustrated by the likes of Burnt Offerings, The Haunting, The Amityville Horror and The Legend of Hell House. There’s also vehicular possession such as Christine, The Car or even the several Herbie films – a spirit for good maybe, but possessed nonetheless.

However, the most enduring and popularised variety of the condition is demonic human possession. The Exorcist (Warner, DVD and Blu-ray) is undoubtedly the benchmark for all that has come before and since. It’s hard to top a film that had evangelists claiming that the very celluloid on which it plays is inhabited by the Devil. Excellent though her performance was, rumour had it that Linda Blair’s Oscar nomination was reliant upon voters mistakenly believing that the demonic voice emanated from her as opposed to being spoken by Mercedes McCambridge whose name had been left off the credits. Looks like Fathers Karras and Merrin weren’t the only ones the demonic voice was out to deceive.

It’s now nearly four decades since the release of The Exorcist but there is still no shortage of evil trying to get inside the unsuspecting. A few years ago, German thriller Requiem (Soda) and US made The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Sony Home Video, DVD and Blu-ray) were factually based on the same true-life exorcism that occurred in the 1920s. The conclusion of recent hit Paranormal Activity (Icon, DVD and Blu-ray) sees the female protagonist becoming more than a little devilish, while last year the fake documentary approach invited us along on The Last Exorcism (Optimum, DVD and Blu-ray). And you can be sure the last in that title does not refer to the conclusion of the genre.

The viewing public is fascinated with the idea of good and evil and the ability to banish evil in the triumph of good. After all, possession is nine-tenths of the law.

The Rite

  • 3 stars
  • 2011
  • US
  • 15
  • Directed by: Mikael Håfström
  • Written by: Michael Petroni
  • Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, Alice Braga

Doubtful US priest Michael Kovak (O'Donoghue) is recruited to travel to Rome to join the Pope's secret army of exorcists. After some old fashioned frights it quickly becomes boring as the script bogs down in theological discussions. Despite a strong cast and expensive production it's still just a hoary variation on The…