The Rite review

Possession is nine-tenths of the lore…

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What do you expect?” sighs Anthony Hopkins’ veteran exorcist to a young apprentice who’s just seen him cast the demon out of a teenage girl. “Spinning heads, pea soup?” “Absolutely!” shouts our guy in the stalls.

But The Rite has no time for such lurid fireworks. Based (very loosely) on fact and with a heavyweight oscar-winner in the Von Sydow role, this is a serious exorcist film.

Or it is until director Mikael Håfström stops being pretentious and serves up the sort of diabolical nonsense we’ve been awaiting all along.

Inspired by a 2007 pronouncement (subsequently played down) that the Vatican had plans to install a satanic expert in every diocese, this initially sombre thriller has its seminarian hero Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) head to Rome to attend a hi-tech Hogwarts for budding devil-busters.

Sceptical at first, he then witnesses Father Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) going about his duties – one of which involves Rosaria (Marta Gastini), a pregnant naïf prone to bodily contortions and regurgitating nails.

Director Håfström is a dab hand at atmosphere, evoking a foreboding world of glowering skies, freaky visions and chilling flashbacks to Kovak’s childhood witnessing of his mortician pop (Rutger Hauer) embalming his mum.

But sooner or later he has to deliver on these omens, something he sort-of does with a third-act reveal that puts a new twist on Kovak’s need to rediscover his faith. But it’s not really about Kovak.

It’s about Trevant, or rather Hopkins’ portrayal of him, the veteran thesp here harking back here to his Silence Of The Lambs heyday with a barnstorming performance that’s less Father Merrin than Hannibal Rector.

Over the top isn’t the half of it…

Slow and laboured to start with, this sober spooker gets better once it realises its true calling and lets its star off the leash.

Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.