Anthony Hopkins, Rutger Hauer and Colin O'Donoghue fail to escape The Exorcist's shadow
‘What did you expect, spinning heads and pea-soup?’ asks Vatican-approved exorcist Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) in Mikael Håfström’s demonic possession thriller, which initially offers a sober take on a horror genre that usually collapses into graphic schlock.
Putting his relationship with his mortician father (Rutger Hauer) behind him, doubtful US priest Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) is recruited by Father Matthew (Toby Jones) to travel to Rome to join the Pope’s secret army of exorcists, formed to combat a rising wave of possessions. Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds) hooks Kovak up with Welshman Lucas, who demonstrates a practical authority when it comes to casting out demons, but Kovak’s faltering faith is tested when Lucas falls under the spell of a demon.
Having already adapted Stephen King’s short story 1408, Håfström brings a similarly tight control to The Rite, with lengthy exorcism scenes delivered in tight close-ups. With The Rite claiming some old fashioned frights, it’s an initially effective approach, but one which quickly becomes boring as Michael Petroni’s script bogs down in interminable theological discussions.
The Rite’s commendable restraint and serious intent will find some adherents, as it attempts to swim against the tide of over-the-top horrors, but despite a strong cast and expensive production, it’s still just a hoary variation on The Exorcist.