It seems like over the last decade there's been a veritable cavalcade of movies about exorcisms, hauntings and paranormal activity, so it's hard to build up any enthusiasm for yet another one. But Sir Anthony Hopkins is a game-changer. Having such a fine actor in such a formulaic genre film, even one purportedly based on a true story (but aren't they all?) seems like a waste, but at the same time it's always fun to see the man really cut loose, as he did in Dracula and The Wolfman and a dozen other horror and thriller movies. Add this one to his list of masterful performances, because he single-handedly makes the movie a horror staple.
As if to balance Hopkins out, the lead role of seminary student Michael Kovak is played by newcomer Colin O'Donoghue, who does a fine if unremarkable job. He joins the seminary to escape the funeral home his father runs, and while I would work anywhere Rutger Hauer (yes, Rutger Hauer) wanted me to, Michael apparently wants out so badly he'll go wherever his father is willing to pay his tuition. Planning to bail on the priesthood after school, Michael is roped into taking one more exorcism course at the Vatican (how can you turn that down?) by his supervisor, humorously played by Toby Jones. He befriends a reporter auditing the course (Alice Braga), but when his lack of faith and love of psychology put him at odds with the instructor (Ciaran Hinds), he's apprenticed to Father Lucas (Hopkins), who performs exorcisms on a regular basis, including weekly sessions with a possessed pregnant girl Rosaria (Marta Gastini) who seems to know some stuff about Michael. Of course.
The movie goes where you expect it to, as Michael sees more and more weirdness, and Rosaria's condition worsens. But it's kept interesting by some good, creepy filmmaking by director Mikael Hafstrom (who also did 1408), not to mention Hopkins' nuanced performance. His Father Lucas is unorthodox, but he's also quirky, blasé and possibly a little bit senile. His little verbal habits -- saying "Okay!" after awkward pauses -- perfectly balance out the frequent bellowing he does at possessed Rosaria, and he gets to cut loose even more as the movie progresses. O'Donogue borders on impassive, but his resigned manner is occasionally very funny -- like when he finds his room infested with frogs, and wearily says, "You've got to be f---ing kidding me." Gastini is a real find as Rosaria, and she does some creepy, creepy stuff, while Braga has a winning smile that makes it easy to see why Michael is drawn to her. Rutger Hauer, Toby Jones and Ciaran Hinds aren't as prominent, but even their slight presence elevates the film. Horror buffs will be pleased to find a horror movie that at least brings to mind a film of Exorcist quality, and Anthony Hopkins fans will just be pleased in general.
Check out an interview with the real-life priest that inspired The Rite.
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