Monday, 10 December 2012

The Rite (2011)

“What did you expect? Spinning heads? Pea soup?”

And so my journey into the unfamiliar territory of more modern horror continues with this acting tour de force from Anthony Hopkins. A confession, though: I’ve never even seen The Exorcist, let alone blogged it, so I won’t be making any comparisons. Sorry.

I suppose films about demonic possession would be scarier for those who believe in all that stuff; I don’t. Nevertheless, this film is effectively creepy, although it’s first and foremost a character drama and a chance for Hopkins to show us his considerable talents.

This is a very pro-Catholic film: the first thing we see is a quote from Pope John Paul II and the vibe seems to be that such things actually happen. Nonetheless, it’s a solid film, pleasingly structured with a strong cast, including Toby Jones trying out his American accent.

The audience identification character, Michael Kovac, has exactly the sort of theological doubts as to make him ideal for his role in the narrative; we see Hopkins’ Father Lucan almost entirely through his eyes. Lucan himself is full of precisely the sorts of eccentricities that we would expect from such a character. It’s highly convenient, of course, that Lucan would be Welsh, therefore absolving Hopkins from having to put on an accent.

We begin by following Michael through the seminary as he enters the strange, celibate world of the priesthood, but soon the scene switches to the far more gorgeous and cinematic setting of the Vatican, with all the obligatory shots where the camera lingers on the famous tourist sights.

The exorcisms are dramatic, and it’s clever that the supernatural elements are limited to a phantom horse and some creepy, devilish creepy crawlies. The creepiest moments, of course, utilise the psychological side of the supernatural: the most memorable moment in the film is where Michael speaks by phone to his dying father who says that “They’re hurting me”, and is then told that his father died hours earlier.

The climax of the film, where Lucas is himself possessed, conveniently gives Hopkins yet another chance to dazzle us with his acting skills. The conclusion is satisfying, although the fact that it revolves around Michael finding his faith again shows us what the film is trying to say.

This is a rather small scale little film, and essentially a vehicle for Hopkins to do a bit of a turn, but it’s well worth a watch.

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