New on DVD/Blu-ray: The Rite (2011)

How could you go wrong with Anthony Hopkins in a horror movie? Hopkins can do just about any genre he puts his mind to, but for some reason I’ve always thought that his talents seem particularly well-suited to scaring the crap out of us. Then again, it could just be a little something called “Silence of the Lambs” from his past coloring my perception. Whatever the case, Hopkins’ latest, the exorcism tale “The Rite” will be available on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, On Demand and for Download May 17th from Warner Bros. Pictures.

Inspired by true events, this supernatural thriller follows a seminary student (Colin O’Donoghue) sent to study exorcism at the Vatican in spite of his own doubts about the controversial practice and even his own faith. Only when sent to apprentice with legendary Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), who has performed thousand of exorcisms, does his armor of skepticism begin to fall. Drawn into a troubling case that seems to transcend even Father Lucas’s skill, the young seminarian glimpses a phenomenon science can’t explain or control – and an evil so violent and terrifying that it forces him to question everything he believes.

Movie Review:

Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) doesn’t believe in much in this crazy world of ours, but he does believe in the power of a free four-year education. Hampered by the family biz (their small town’s funeral home), and unwilling to follow in his peculiar father’s footsteps (the father played by a peculiar Rutger Hauer), Michael decides to enroll in seminary school. After four years, he intends to call it quits, say “See ya!” and perhaps head back to his small town to get busy with that cute waitress who gave him a free beer before he left home. Alas, fate intervenes, and after delivering last rites to a dying girl, the victim of a freak accident, Michael is sent to Rome to, essentially, learn the basics of exorcism. For you see, the devil has been very busy of late, and the Church can always use younger blood.

In Rome, Michael is teamed up with Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), the Church’s frontman in its fight against the devil. He also meets the comely Angeline (Alice Braga), a reporter investigating exorcism, and fellow skeptic who wants Michael to spy on Lucas for an article. Like Michael, Angeline brings her own baggage to the question of “Is it all real”. Michael’s introduction to exorcism is a 16-year old pregnant girl (Marta Gastini) whose case gets increasingly worst with each session. Pretty soon, the poor girl is spitting out nails and telling Michael secrets from his past. Could this whole exorcism thing be real after all? Will the skeptic priest become a believer? And why doesn’t former Bond girl, the gorgeous Maria Grazia Cucinotta, as the pregnant girl’s aunt, have a bigger role?

“The Rite” is directed by Mikael Hafstrom (“1408”), who approaches much of the film from Michael’s perspective, skeptical and disbelieving. By the time the exorcism stuff kicks in about 30 minutes later, the film gradually but surely leans toward one obvious conclusion. The movie doesn’t skimp out on the horror and supernatural elements, but the screenplay by Michael Petroni (and “suggested” (whatever that means) from a book by Matt Baglio) eschews the blood and guts, and goes for implied horror rather than actual visceral thrills. Things do get pretty intense toward the end, when Michael has to finally make up his mind whether he believes or not. Let me say that I’m not a believer, so the film’s conclusions don’t exactly have a whole lot of sway with me either way.

Anthony Hopkins, as expected, does an excellent job in the lead. I was surprise, though, by the performance of Colin O’Donoghue, who is quite good as the skeptical priest-in-training. It amazes me that O’Donoghue hasn’t become the “next big thing” in Hollywood yet. The kid’s got it all — good looks, acting chops, and presence. Hell, you’d have to have all three of those things (but perhaps not the first) to work opposite Hopkins for an entire movie. Alice Braga’s reporter actually has more screentime than I thought she would, but she does well enough in the limited role. “The Rite” has a couple of jump scare moments, but it’s probably not going to give you nightmares. I would have liked a little bit more ambiguity in the film, but hey, you can’t always get what you want. Just ask the pregnant 16-year old girl spitting out nails.

Blu-ray Combo Pack Review:

Special features on the Combo Pack include a 7-minute featurette called “The Rite: Soldier of God”, which introduces Father Gary Thomas, the basis for the Michael character. We also meet journalist Matt Baglio, whose book “suggested” the movie (whatever that means), and who is the inspiration for the Alice Braga character. Baglio isn’t a bad looking guy, but he’s no Alice Braga.

You also get an alternate ending and over 12 minutes of deleted scenes that includes more time between Michael and Angeline that hints at romance, but probably didn’t fit into what they were going for with the final cut of the film.

“The Rite” is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and for Download May 17th from Warner Bros. Pictures.