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The Rite (Frank's take)

01/03/2011. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy The Rite in the USA - or Buy The Rite in the UK

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The woefully slight-minded spookfest The Rite gets it absolutely wrong, says our Frank. As an interminable sluggish supernatural saga, director Mikael Hafstrom (“Evil”, “Derailed”) delivers an overblown creepy case of cliché-ridden callowness that fails to stimulate, excite or entice its subject matter pertaining to ominous exorcisms grounded in chilly cynicism.

Basically, The Rite is predictably atmospheric and has all the derivative deliciousness of a dented, rusty crucifixion cross.

Rambling and nonsensical, Hafstrom’s hammy and hallucinating hogwash horror show is painfully familiar and never rises above the mindlessness of the moping material that persists. Some may appreciate the presence of The Macabre Master himself…legendary Oscar-winning Anthony Hopkins in his former glorified Silence of the Lamb-like shell that is expected to graciously gross-out his avid sadists with chewy, hellish hedonism.

Unfortunately, Hopkins is wasted in this low-rent lunacy piece that struggles to skilfully comment on the demonic disbelief system and the church’s overall reaction to wavering scepticism courtesy of dark forces that precariously flex its preposterous muscles through the usual CGI effects that comply with a disjointed storyline.

The Rite is based on the Matt Baglio’s book. Screenwriter Michael Petroni laces this clumsy narrative with run-of-the-mill shadowy impishness and audio-twitching curiosity without convincingly fuelling this faceless “faith-in-question fable” with solid intrigue or genuine introspective scope. Sadly, Hopkins’s canned and cartoonish Hannibal Lecter-inspired priestly flourishes cannot retain any crawly-induced credibility that is lacking in the sketchy euphoria awkwardly conjured up by Hafstrom’s fright-induced shoddy showcase.

The presented nail-biting sequences lack any distinctive punch or pull. The Rite even botches up an isolated opportunity to capitalise on the unintentional campy moments because after all…to take this slice of soul-searching slap-dish sensationalism seriously would be criminal.

Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) has been emotionally and psychologically detached since his childhood. The son of a mortician (Rutger Hauer), Michael has experienced death as a scarred memory on many levels…particularly dealing with the passing of his beloved mother. Naturally questioning the art of faith and spirituality, Michael nevertheless decides to study while heading into the priesthood. Upon his graduation from the seminary, the challenge in serving God weighs heavily on Michael’s consciousness especially when his faith and beliefs are still continuously questioned in his inquiring mindset.

At the insistence of an overbearing priest (Toby Jones), the self-doubting Michael is encouraged to travel to Rome and pursue the noted craft as an exorcist. Perhaps training to eradicate the nasty spirits that invade the papacy’s sainted surroundings will bring some constructive foundation to Michael’s fluctuating religious ambivalence?

Soon, the bewildered Michael Kovak is teamed up with Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) as they both concentrate on eliminating the Satanic riff raff that dare to invade the sanctuary of God’s bountiful boundaries. When a young pregnant woman (Marta Gastini) is added into the mind-bending mix as well as a skeptical journalist (Alice Braga) on board to seep out the indescribable experiences that haunt Father Trevant’s tattered psyche the proceedings become more laborious and convoluted.

Will the expecting mother deliver another bad seed to the confines of the Vatican…a little Lucifer in the making? Can Father Trevant and a mixed-up Michael come to terms with whatever they believe (or not believe) and save the day before something dire happens to ruin spiritual harmony? Will faith be restored while the fury of deceptive demons is set to be wisely ignored?

Delusional and dopey, The Rite is unevenly distributed and never quite finds its stable footing. As a laughable moody thriller, Hafstrom conveys this banal boofest with all the steadiness of a one-legged man hopping aimlessly on a slippery waxed floor. We are never quite sure what or how to digest this murky melodrama. At selected times the film tries furiously to address the uncertainties about the church as a viable institution and then reinforces this forethought with how we as a society might want to view our hypocrisy or holier-than-thou positioning.

However, this formulated forethought is usurped by the wacky and dippy-headed diatribe aggravated by pointless performances and a distractingly scattershot script. The creative weirdness and wistful strokes about believing and hankering for soulful insight is abandoned for probing piffle at a cheapened premium of sub par suspense.

As the pained protagonist, O’Donoghue’s Michael Kovak is bland and boring. There is never any inspired zip or zest to O’Donoghue’s less-than-peppered performance. The brooding and inquisitive nature to the characterisation of O’Donoghue’s so-called disillusioned Michael has all the tasty trimmings of a high school cafeteria’s dry ham sandwich. He comes off as wishy-washy and the sad-sack routine inexplicably doesn’t match the over-the-top outrageousness intended. As for Hopkins, he’s totally off-the-wall (unfavourably that is…) as the working exorcist with unconventional methods.

Here, Hopkins displays his baseless brand of trivial hocus-pocus antics with all the urgency of a cockeyed clown at a kiddie birthday party. He’s Hannibal the Huckster…armed with pseudo-pithy dialogue and underwhelmed shenanigans that are too embarrassing to describe. No doubt Hopkins is mailing in this thankless part while realising what a discouraging demonic dud that he has trapped himself at will. The supporting players are scattered about as they try to make sense out of their transparent participation in this supernatural snoozer.

Sadly, the movie shuts down its momentum by not succeeding to answer the thought-provoking inquiries it asks in uneventful, wandering fashion. What should have been a sheer examination of faith and fortitude has morphed ridiculously into a hollow horror display occasionally sprinkled with meagre mischievousness and dime-a-dozen special effects.

Sure, it’s safe to now administer the last Rite(s) to this limping Roman Catholic creaky caper.

The Rite (2011) New Line Pictures
1 hr. 52 mins.
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Rutger Hauer, Marta Gastini, Maria Grazia Cucinotta
Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

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