The Rite Review

Where’s your faith?

This is the crux of Mickael Hafstrom’s The Rite, cinema’s latest addition to a seemingly eternal canon of movies that deal with our apparent fascination of  exorcism.

The Rite opens with a young man dutifully preparing a corpse for her final public appearance. This is Michael Kovak, the son of an undertaker and a man desperate to escape following in his father’s footsteps.

Knowing that his widowed and deeply religious paterfamilias would only accept the priesthood as an alternative career path, Kovak swallows his own grave reservations about religion and plots his escape route via seminary school.

Upon graduating Kovak informs his pastoral mentor, Father Matthew, that he has no faith in the church and intends to pursue a life outside of religion.

Aghast at losing one of his most gifted students, Matthew not so subtly blackmails Kovak into attending one last course before giving him his blessing.

Kovak soon finds himself shipped off to Rome, where he will learn how to become an exorcist.

Inspired by Matt Baglio’s book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, the most intriguing facet of Hafstrom’s adaptation is almost everything that exists in his cinematic world also exists in ours.

Hafstrom frames The Rite with a quote from Pope John Paul II at the start, extolling the former pontiff’s belief that the Devil is still alive and present in our modern world.

So this exorcism training college at the Vatican actually exists.


While The Rite goes to great extremes to point out the reality of people and places portrayed, all the characters involved are based on real people of the same name, the closing credits also stresses how fictionalised the events that take place are.


Why champion the authenticity of your source material, when the creative liberties indulged are as great as any other work of fiction?

The film itself is well executed; with an ensemble of actors both known and unknown who do their best to add some gravitas to the well worn myths affiliated with silver screen exorcism.

Principal amongst these is Anthony Hopkins, who plays the role of Father Lucas; an “unorthodox” exorcist Kovak is sent to learn from after expressing his doubts about his classes a little too vocally.

Now, as far as I can make out from my experiences of watching film, there are essentially two schools of acting.

One involves research and dedication to your craft, trying to gain some sort of insight into the character you will portray so as to make them as fully realised and human as possible.

The other method is to scream and shout a lot, making your performance as big as you can so that no one can ignore it.

Can you guess which option Hopkins plumps for?

Against Hopkins’ larger than religion performance, Colin O’Donoghue probably felt little option but to adopt an earnest and withdrawn persona for his role as Michael Kovak.

What The Rite really needed from O’Donoghue was a protagonist the audience could identify with.

We are meant to accompany Kovak on his spiritual journey through the film, to ask ourselves what it is we believe in.

Yet his character is so boring that by the end I didn’t care whether he found his faith or not.

What I have faith in is a good script, which has the power to make a film compelling and engaging from start to finish.

It’s a belief I wish the scriptwriters of The Rite also possessed.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

February 2011