**/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras D
starring Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, Alice Braga, Rutger Hauer
screenplay by Michael Petroni, suggested by the book by Matt Baglio
directed by Mikael Håfström
by Walter Chaw Though it's not particularly surprising that The Rite isn't scary or innovative, it is a bit of a surprise that The Rite doesn't completely suck. It's not good, but there's some ambition in its tale of a tortured seminarian. Michael (Colin O'Donoghue) is dealing with his odd childhood at the knee of his dad, a widower and overzealous mortician (Rutger Hauer), as well as a crisis of faith handily addressed by the traumatic, traffic-related death of an innocent whom God, the picture suggests, throws in front of a truck to get Michael to reconsider leaving the priesthood. In the same stroke, God cripples Michael's mentor, Father Matthew (Toby Jones), leading one to revisit Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star" for a dose of non-Scriptural skepticism and rage if one were so inclined. No matter, as Michael, because of his lack of squeamishness, is packed off to The Vatican to attend a modern exorcism school. Which is also something of a surprise, I guess--that said exorcism school really exists and is alive and well, well into the 21st century. Although that surprise is ameliorated a little by the fact that Catholicism also still believes in a literal transubstantiation of the host. Small wonder that Catholicism is my favourite Christian sect.
Small wonder, too, that a surge in Catholic conversion accompanied the 1973 release of The Exorcist, and that The Rite would introduce a handsome, brooding man of faith tortured by what feels like his divorce from God to capitalize on the same dramatic tension that attended its more hale predecessor. Father Merrin this time out is dotty Father Trevant (Anthony Hopkins, who couldn't hold Max Von Sydow's water nowadays), a country exorcist working out of his cat-infested villa in rural Roma. The exorcist-whisperer to Doubting Michael, Trevant shushes aside any scientific objections with all the grand thesping of the most mercenary actor in movies today. Nor should Michael, honestly, hold so fast to his skepticism, given the film's contortions to convince him that what he witnesses befalling poor, raped, pregnant Rosaria (Marta Gastini) is infernal in nature. Indeed, The Rite is so fervently on the side of the angels, as it were, that the healthy doubt Michael brings to the first half of the film is drowned out by the gesticulations of the second. It's more The Exorcism of Emily Rose than Requiem, meaning that even if you believe that Michael has chosen the right side by the end, The Rite's chosen pretty poorly the movies it prefers to resemble.
What's good about The Rite are the moments where Hopkins actually underplays his interactions with the legions of the damned, and when his Trevant is revealed by Michael to be a bit of a showman and charlatan. The Rite threatens for a goodly portion of its runtime to be the better film--the one about the struggle between faith and credulity undertaken by reasonable, brilliant, otherwise-sane people presented with evidence of the supernatural. A shame that its better aspirations are subsumed at the end, with Sir Anthony not just earning his paycheck but blowing that fucker out the tabernacle in a spray of vomit and vicious backhands delivered to little ethnic children teleported from a De Sica tearjerker. A shame, too, that gorgeous Alice Braga and ridiculously gorgeous Maria Grazia Cucinotta are used and discarded as facile plot points instead of the real temptations they should have presented our pious pair. There are opportunities at every corner of The Rite to ask real questions of faith. Alas, the lure of the same old bread and circus proves, as it will, too much.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Through Warner, New Line presents The Rite on Blu-ray in a near-flawless 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that offers sharp shadow detail and a gratifying amount of well-budgeted, made-in-2011 crispness. It's not a showcase, partly because much of the film takes place in dust-moted, late-afternoon interiors, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy a blood-stained gurney late in the proceedings for its clarity (and ugliness). A lovely 5.1 DTS-HD MA track brings to mind the boffo mix of The Exorcist's so-called Director's Cut. The full use of rear channels for a disgusting gallery of demon-creaking noises highlights the real potential of digital audio technology for horror films. It's cool. Best is an almost subliminal bassline, rumbling up through your feet. Nicely played, The Rite. "Deleted Scenes" (13 mins., HD) are basically discarded bits of dialogue and transitional moments; those looking for a spider-walk will be disappointed. Equally disappointing is a "Chilling Alternate Ending" (2 mins., HD) that isn't so much chilling as stupid. "The Rite: Soldier of God" (7 mins., HD) amounts to mostly a promo reel for the Matt Baglio investigative book upon which the picture is ever-so-loosely based. Baglio talks about how he became involved and So-Cal's resident exorcist Father Gary Thomas acts very normal for a resident exorcist. Otherwise, there's no there, here. A startup trailer for Green Lantern is all the warning you should need.