The Rite ✮1/2
THE DEVIL, YOU SAY!
by Glenn Lovell
Faced with your basic moaning and incantations ‒ interrupted by a cell phone ‒ the young exorcist’s apprentice can’t hide his disdain.
“What did you expect?” laughs Father Lucas. “Spinning heads, pea soup?”
From your mouth to Satan’s ear ‒
“The Rite” ‒ starring Anthony Hopkins as Father Lucas and Irish newcomer Colin O’Donoghue as the skeptical divinity student ‒ could have stood a bit of old-fashioned levitation.
Despite Hopkins’ wonderfully balmy performance ‒ think Brando at the end of his career ‒ this scare picture is too serious by half. In place of supernatural hocus-pocus ‒ the kind of thing that propelled the original “Exorcist” and more recently “Paranormal Activity” ‒ we get artsy-fartsy set design and hoof prints in the snow.
Acid test: The young horror aficionados seated down front bolted after half an hour of talky exposition. They were obviously up for something a tad more visceral. The PG-13 should have been a tip-off.
Working from a loose adaptation of Mark Baglio’s nonfiction account of the Vatican’s boot camp for exorcists, director Mikael Hafstrom painted himself into a corner: His new movie had to be unnerving as well as credible from a psychological standpoint. So that meant everything had to have a rational explanation: abusive parents, schizophrenia, etc.
Priest-in-training Michael Kovac (O’Donoghue) spends more time playing Doubting Thomas than placing shoulder to the door of Hades to keep Lucifer at bay.
A shame. Hafstrom has already proven he knows how to raise grade-A gooseflesh. His “Room 1408,” starring John Cusack and taken from a Stephen King story, stands as one of the scariest supernatural thrillers of the last few years ‒ at times tighter and more single-minded than “The Shining.”
After a ponderous set-up establishing Michael’s conflicted personality ‒ he turns his back on the family mortuary business by reluctantly enrolling in divinity school ‒ we find ourselves in Rome, where the handsome atheist joins Father Lucas on his rounds. Among his cases, a very pregnant 16-year-old who contorts and barfs up nails, and a little boy who bears the mark of a donkey-demon. Michael’s assessment: Father Lucas is a charlatan with a bag of tricks.
We wait for things to heat up ‒ either between Father Lucas and the man downstairs or Michael and a comely journalist (Brazil’s Alice Braga) ‒ but they never do. Still, there’s the devil to pay for Father Lucas’s missteps and Act 3 finds Michael now exorcising the exorcist, who has suddenly started batting cherubs in the park and sounding like Hannibal Lecter messing with Clarice Starling’s mind. Hopkins didn’t sign on to expand his repertoire. He was obviously tempted by the opportunity to hiss such nuggets as “You’re so tedious, you little piece of mouse shit!”
As for you fright fans, you’d be better off renting the poorly distributed “Case 39,” with Renee Zellweger as a social worker battling Satan, whose many disguises make him (her?) a far more interesting adversary.
THE RITE. ✮1/2 With Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciaran Hinds, Rutger Hauser. Director: Mikael Hafstrom. Screenwriter: Michael Petroni, adapting Mark Baglio’s book. 112 min. Rated PG-13 (for profanity, exorcism violence, a few semi-gross makeup effects).