At least it's the only exorcist film I've seen where a priest stops his devil-be-gone ritual to answer an iPhone. That's new.
"Well, what'd you expect?" asks wizened Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) to his young protégé. "Spinning heads? Pea soup?"
Well, yes ... and no. With "The Rite" being a studio picture — and from Warner Bros., home of "The Exorcist," no less! — I figured it would trot out those tired exorcism elements. It didn't, which I give it extreme credit for, yet it doesn't offer anything groundbreaking in its place, either.
"1408" director Mikael Håfström's film does introduce American audiences to Irish actor Colin O'Donoghue, a nice, grounding presence cast in the mold of "21" lead Jim Sturgess: good-looking, but with talent that extends beyond mere facial features. He's a realistic protagonist as reluctant seminary student Michael, who's turned in his resignation when fate comes knocking and leaves a rather bloody fistprint — the film's one true "ooh" scene. Before he's allowed to leave the collar behind, Michael's sent to Italy for a couple of months to shadow Lucas in his dealings with the devil.
Michael doesn't believe in such things; in fact, his lack of faith is what pushed him to quit in the first place. As you well know, their encounters with the young, pregnant Rosaria (Marta Gastini) will force him to change his mind. Can you say vomiting nails, plague of frogs and Mercedes McCambridge dirty talk?
None of this is scary. I don't ask horror films to be, because only a mere fraction ever are. But I do ask them to be engaging, and not even the power of Christ compels this one to wake from its sleepy, passive spell. It ultimately paints a positive picture of Christianity — spoiler alert: God wins! — but as Peggy Lee once sang, is that all there is? "The Exorcist" also gave the Lord high props ... yet also left audiences with a lasting case of the creeps.
Well, there's also Hopkins phoning in an embarrassingly hammy turn in the final 20 minutes, like a stand-up comedian imitating his Hannibal Lecter. And on the Blu-ray edition, which also includes the standard DVD and a digital copy, there's a look at the real-life holy man whose adventures inspired this luscious-looking but lazy adaptation.
If you’re in the mood for this sort of thing, however, I don’t blame you. But I will instead point you toward the recent DVD release of the BBC’s excellent exorcist series, “Apparitions.” —Rod Lott