Sunday, 6 March 2011

Two Wrongs Don't Make The Rite

The Rite 2011 USA
Directed by
Mikael Håfström
Playing at UK cinemas now.

There are not that many really scary or decent horror movies made these days, to be honest... even less covering the topic of demonic possession so popularised by Friekdin’s The Exorcist back in the seventies. However, having said that, there have been in recent years, one great movie about a demon from Hell and two really good exorcism movies. These are Drag Me To Hell, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (which wins out big time with its interesting tack of intermingling the “possession” with a post-exorcism, court room drama movie) and The Last Exorcism respectively.

I had high hopes for The Rite because the trailer is pretty cool (way cooler than the movie eventually turns out to be) and it features two really good elements to the storyline which tease you into thinking this movie might have some real edge... one being a student priest who doesn’t believe in the terms and conditions of his religion anymore, which to be fair is nothing new and on its own would not carry much water, but this is combined with the added extra of having the chief”guru exorcist” played by a much loved Welsh actor (Anthony Hopkins) being himself demonically possessed and putting the pressure on for said young unbelieving priest to “get his spirit on” and perform an exorcism on his former mentor. This all comes up in the excellent trailer for the movie so I’m not really spoiling anything here folks, although, it has to be said here and now... there’s something wrong with The Rite.

A couple of things as it happens... but I’ll get to that soon enough. First let me tell you what The Rite does well before I pick up on what I see as its obvious weaknesses.

Well for one thing it’s beautifully paced and really well shot and edited. It feels closer to it’s template movie, The Exorcist, than most of it’s demonically possessed peers because its pace is, to say the least, very leisurely and very much reminds you of an American film shot in the very early seventies... what we might perhaps today call a very European sensibility to the film regarding the pacing and the absolute beauty of some of the framing and lighting presented in the early parts of the work as it jumps from scene to scene.

Also, the performances are, mostly, spot on pitch perfect and there’s a little raft of great character actors that, aside from the legendary Rutger Haur, will have you playing the “I know him, now what’s his name” game. This popped me out of the narrative at two points... one where I was all “Oh... that’s the Dream-master geezah from the last series of Doctor Who” and another where I came on all “Oh, it’s the geezah from Munich!”. These actors deliver in the same way only great, unsung character actors can and, together with the low key but high quality performances by the rest of the cast (in general, I’ll get to Mr. Hopkins in a minute), it’s a top notch acting job all around.

Ok. So great cinematography, pacing, editing, a fairly standard score (competent but not outstanding, although it may be more striking as a stand alone experience) and some great acting do not, as it turns out in the case of The Rite, a good movie make!

I think the real problem here is that I don’t think the director knew he was making a horror movie. I bet the studio did and I bet that’s what they signed on for... but this film really doesn’t deliver too much in the way of scares and where the deliberate “made you jump” moments are portioned out in the middle sections of the film, they seem kind of fake and added on. The cat at the window scare, for instance, is shot as a little series of close ups away from the master shots and I suspect there was some heavy, serious studio tinkering (possibly reshoots?) to put more scare into this movie at certain points... they just seem tacked on.

I’m guessing here (so I’m quite possibly wrong), but I think the studio were after a rip-snorting scare fest for kids and Håfström himself was making a mature and extended study of demonic possession as seen in a Catholic faith setting... and at some point what he was making came to a head on a collision course with what the studio thought he was making and things may have changed... goal posts may have been moved halfway through the shoot is my guess. Either one of these movies... what the director wanted to make or possibly the “balls-to-the-wall” horror fest the studio wanted would probably have worked really well with this kind of plot on their own terms... unfortunately, when the two styles collide the film kinda hits a lot of false notes which lead it to a quickly resolved (in view of the pacing of the rest of the movie) climactic sequence which does nothing to help the credibility of the tale as it unfolds. The main lead is good and Hopkins, who has been brilliant all the way through the film, suddenly gets possessed by Baal (a demon) and goes all over-the-top hammy and starts munching on the scenery like there’s no retakes allowed. This, then, is the other big problem of the movie... Hopkins histrionics, no doubt the best possible choice he could have made given the scripting at this point, kind of destroy the credibility of everything that’s gone before and leave the film bereft of anything like a satisfying resolution (or what could have been an even more satisfying sense of non-closure).

At the end of the day, though, I think my verdict on this one would have to be that The Rite is not really going to satisfy many horror fans and I would say that the only people who are really going to get anything out of this are going to be watching the film on it’s purely aesthetic levels... not to watch a story unfold. If you’re one of those people (as am I on occasion) then you might well like the movie... if you want something which is at least the sum of it parts, however, you might want to steer clear of this one.

Whatever you decide... Do the Rite thing or don’t... but go in knowing that you’ll possibly be less than satisfied with the experience.

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