Review: “The Rite” (2011)

Marta Gastini is really unimpressed with the turn-down service in "The Rite"

Before I get into reviewing the religious horror-thriller The Rite, allow me to express how deeply happy I am that Sir Anthony Hopkins has officially embraced his inner Joan Crawford and has dedicated his twilight years to bringing us highly pedigreed lowbrow entertainment of the finest camp quality.

Because let’s face it – while the acclaimed actor is as wonderful a dramatic force as ever, his days of winning Oscars for appearing in horror movies is long gone. Beginning with the trashy Hannibal and continuing through the gloriously cheesy Wolfman remake, the openly dumb Red Dragon, whatever the hell Alexander was, and the pulpy thriller Fracture, Sir Tony lands very comfortably in a movie like The Rite.

Unfortunately, the uneven exorcism thriller has no idea what the hell to do with him.

Colin O’Donoghue: Pretty

Based on the 2009 non-fiction book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, The Rite tells the story of a young American priest-to-be who is recruited by the Vatican to train in Rome to become an exorcist. While Father Kovak (handsome newcomer Colon O’Donoghue, who may very well be Irish) is dealing with a crisis of faith that has led him to consider leaving the seminary before taking his vows as a priest, he learns in Rome that there are far bigger challenges to one’s beliefs out there, and some of them involve children who spit up nails.

While in Rome, Kovak is introduced to Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), an unconventional priest who has been performing exorcisms for decades. He takes Kovak with him to several exorcism attempts and eventually falls in the crosshairs of demons himself. It’s kind of like Training Day in cossacks.

A young Father Kovak

Along the way Kovak befriends a reporter (Alice Braga) writing a piece on the Vatican’s new exorcist training initiative (not making that one up – it’s an actual thing), has ominous flashbacks about his mother’s death and life growing up the son of a mortician (Rutger Hauer), and obsessively checks for job openings not involving white collars or embalming fluid (okay, making that one up).

The Rite is a bit wrong, to be quite honest (and to go for the obvious pun, which I will gladly do thank you very much). I think it means well, but it feels like it is three different movies smashed together, likely due to numerous rewrites and obligations to the living and breathing source material (real-life exorcist Father Gary Thomas, whose education in Rome was documented in the book by reporter Matt Baglio).

Hopkins and Father Prettypants

The first part of the movie is an earnest drama of faith interrupted only by some creepy funereal imagery and a legitimately shocking accident that provides the only real scare in the whole film. After Kovak gets to the Vatican, the movie morphs into a bizarre hybrid of priest buddy movie (like we need another one of those – right, priest buddy movie that doesn’t exist?), exorcist knockoff (complete with sass-talking, undulating possessed girl), and celibate romance.

Eventually all three of these fall to the wayside and we get to the main event: A prolonged and quite ridiculous showstopper where Kovak has to drive the demon out of – you guessed it – kindly, aged Father Lucas.

Forget The Exorcism of Emily Rose – this is the Exorcism of Charlie Rose. (Note that I did consider not discussing this element in the review, but the ads for the film clearly suggest that Father Lucas at some point has a bit of the brimstone in him, and I don’t think it’s spoiling anything important.)

Anthony Hopkins

At least being inhabited by a demon gives Hopkins the freedom to play around in the role, making sure that he uses every crayon in his actorly box (including, of course, a sibilant bitch who calls Kovak “honey” in a voice that Hannibal Lecter might find familiar). And I have to say seeing him slap the shit out of a toddler was a rather unexpected pleasure. But the climactic scene is more amusing than scary, and raises more questions about the narrative than it answers.

It’s really just a cage match, and Kovak’s crisis of faith feels like a series of machinations leading up to it, in retrospect. A series of “clues” to the demonic central mystery (including a bracelet that can apparently break the space/time continuum, and a whole lot of frogs) don’t add up to anything, and as a result the movie feels like a cheap excuse to further a religious-postcard-ready “Keep the Faith!” message.

I will give director Mikael H√•fstrom (1408) credit for keeping things relatively calm, dark, and quiet during the scare scenes – aside from a few “gotcha!” jump scares it’s a pretty atmospheric flick. And it’s hard to not appreciate the utter droolworthiness of newcomer O’Donoghue, even in his priestly dress blacks. If more men of the cloth looked like him I might make it to church more than once a millennium.

So while The Rite isn’t the campfest some of us were no doubt hoping for, it does make for some reasonably compelling drama before it gives up and lets Hopkins¬† off the leash to do his thing. While no means a must-see for horror fans, I’ve seen the devil do worse.


The Rite is Rated PG-13 for gratuitous Italiano, harm to nails, smoldering priestliness, and reckless use of adorable Roman kittens.

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Buzz created in 2003 to meet a need for a safe place for weirdos of all stripes to discuss horror movies from a queer perspective. Now that the campers have overtaken the Camp staff and locked them in the Arts & Crafts cabin he is questioning that decision.