“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
– Ephrasians 6:10-18
The bible passage above very much relates to the 2011 exorcism film The Rite. The main theme of this film states believing in God will protect you from demonic possession. This is a perfect example of a film about exorcisms that does not try to tackle The Exorcist.
Even before watching, I pictured this film would be stylistically and choreographically better, yet nowhere near the same page.According to the opening credits, The Rite is ‘loosely’ based on the real experiences of Father Gary Thomas (known in the film as Michael Kovak and played by Colin O’Donoghue), a parish priest from California who, initially skeptical about demonic possession, becomes the apprentice to a Vatican-employed exorcist, Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins).
Like many horror films, the director always shows a glimpse into the characters normal, everyday life. From there, it slowly builds-up and enters into the realm of the unknown and unexplained.
The purpose of this is to show that horrific, unexplained and unknown events can happen to even the most normal and average person. The Rite, in a way conforms to this style, but it has a fairly quick build with little wait time for the exorcism scenes.
The story of Michael Kovak is one based on a life of uncertainty. Born and raised in a mortuary under a strict Roman Catholic Hungarian Family, his career choices are limited: a priest or a mortician.
With his future uncertain, as well as his own identity, Kovak chooses the life of a priest (even though his faith is somewhat tarnished). He enters the priesthood asking questions of science and uncertainty in God. But, he is quickly silenced by the church.
In order to change his mind about the priesthood the church, using some well-placed blackmail techniques, essentially forces Kovak to the Vatican to join a seminar about the supposed ‘plague’ of demonic possession in Rome.
While in Rome, Kovak is further sent to the residence and office of a Vatican-employed exorcist, Father Lucas Trevant. Trevant is not the average exorcist, and Kovak is not the average priest. Together, they try to rid Rome of the ancient demons that lurk in the shadows of the non-believers as well as the demons within each other.
The film naturally has a great deal of screaming, voice and language distortion, unexplained events, a decent amount of blood (surprising for a PG-13) and some interesting looks into themes like science versus religion and demonic possession versus mental illness. While watching this, I was instantly reminded, both stylistically and content-wise, of the 2005 film The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
A further investigation shows that they have the same producers, among other things. Both films are based on true events and both films involve a character that justify these unexplained events through science and medical beliefs — speaking in a foreign tongue, contorting her body and vomiting nails used during Christ’s crucifixion must be symptoms of Schizophrenia.
The opening biblical phrase holds much water here. Unfortunately, to describe its relevance would divulge the juicy details that make this film watchable and different. Just remember that phrase before seeing the film and you will understand.
The most disappointing aspect of this film is the single-named character of Angeline (played by Alice Braga). Although she is not the traditional sex symbol that seems to infest the modern-day horror film, she does remain purposeless and shallow. She is supposed to be a journalist writing a piece on exorcism, yet all she is successful at doing is getting in the way Kovak and Trevant.
Overall, The Rite was decent. It didn’t try to be anything more than what it was: a two hour battle with not only demonic possession, but our characters secrets and inner feelings. And even though films like this will never appear realistic to me, Director Mikael Håfström (1408 & Derailed) did an excellent with the setting to make it look realistic.
When I think of possession films, I imagine buildings of ancient monstrosity, thick slabs of marble, great libraries of dusty books and scrolls and a crucifix in every scene. Well, that is essentially what we get.