If you walk into “The Rite” without ever having seen another exorcism movie, then you might have a hell of a time.
The odds are that it isn’t the case. These films have an unholy way of multiplying. As such, we know most of their moves. The habits of these films are now old hat on Linda Blair’s spinning head.
Have you ever wondered how “The Exorcist” looked in 1973? For an audience raised on musicals, what would it have felt like to watch such shocking horror? When I watch films from that era, I’m always curious how those films played to the audiences of the era, and how that’s different from the way they are perceived now. I don’t think you could re-create that feeling.
Why do audiences flock to exorcism movies? Besides the naturally scary material, exorcism stories stand at the collision of the metaphysical and material reality. If there is a devil, you can at least take comfort in the fact that there is a God, and that our sense of a battle of good and evil has that metaphysical reflection.
That sort of material proof is what seminarian Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) needs. His faith has started to waiver. In a last-ditch effort he agrees to attend a program at the Vatican, where the Catholic Church is assembling a crack team of exorcists. Kovacs finds his skepticism challenged by events (little things like a pregnant woman contorting spitting up nails have a way of doing that). Anthony Hopkins, playing a veteran Welsh exorcist, teaches him the craft. I have no doubts about the existence of Anthony Hopkins. I ham, therefore I am.
“The Rite” is supposedly based on ‘real events.’ It tells us that Kovacs is one of fourteen exorcists working in the United States. The profession of reality is one of those habits of exorcism films. Come to think of it, it is a staple of horror stories generally, from the time you shared them over a campfire. No one wants to walk into a horror film and hear, “this is totally fake.”
There’s not a lot to say about “The Rite.” It’s an adequate Friday night freakout. But if you have seen one exorcism, you’ve seen them all.