Holy God Almighty, what a piece of shit! I'm not one for prayer, but if I were to offer one up I think it just might have to be for Hollywood to stop making exorcism movies forever. There may be no other subgenre that more obstinately refuses to evolve. Yes, a young girl making guttural noises, vomiting weird stuff, and swearing a lot while twisting and breaking her body in inhuman ways was considered horrifying when the world first saw it 38 years ago. That's why The Exorcist shattered box office records, making just shy of $200 million domestic at a time when that flat-out did not happen. But it was no longer horrifying by the time we saw it last year in The Last Exorcism, which "sweetened" the formula by doing it mockumentary and set in the deep south, and it sure as hell ain't horrifying this year in The Rite, which adjusts the formula by moving it to Europe and centering it around a young and inexperienced priest rather than an old pro.
Said priest is one Michael Kovak, kind of brought to life by actor Colin O'Donoghue in one of the blandest and most uncharismatic leading performances I've seen onscreen in years. I'm not beholden to the star system and am normally all for lesser-known actors getting a shot at a big screen lead, but not like this. Channing Tatum could teach this guy a thing or two about emoting. For a couple minutes I thought maybe he was being really subtle, but then I realized, nope, he's just spectacularly underacting.
But anyway, Kovak is a young seminary student (not sure if that's the proper term, but whatever) who expresses a lack of faith just before taking his vows, so his superior priest (that's definitely not the right terminology) sends him to Rome to show him the need for God and save his soul and all that. In Rome, Kovak meets up with an exorcist played by Anthony Hopkins and skeptically observes the process. I don't think you'll be shocked or consider yourself spoiled to learn that Kovak's skepticism begins to melt away and be replaced by faith as he sees the demonry at hand and starts becoming an exorcist himself. In all fairness, the generic exorcism movie young girl is only the first of several possessed victims, not the sole focus of the entire narrative, but none of the other exorcees are any scarier or more interesting.
The movie as a whole is basically Christian propaganda, and not even wannabe hip and edgy Christian propaganda like last year's Book of Eli either, but relatively gentle fare as evidenced by its PG-13 rating. There's certainly no sex or nudity or real swearing, but it's light on violence too, with only one true moment of gore I can recall that only really involves blood, no gristle or any other good stuff. I bet most grandparents could sit through this film, something I can say about few horror flicks I've enjoyed in recent years.
Whatever my own religious leanings may be, I don't actually have any problem with Christian propaganda if done well. Two movies that come to mind, coincidentally both from 2002, are Signs and The Count of Monte Cristo, which have largely identical character arcs about formerly godly men who suffer tragedy, become atheists, achieve victory, then triumphantly get religion again in the final scene. It makes for a pretty lazy depiction of religion and irreligion alike in both cases, but what the hell, the former film has crazy intense atmosphere and the latter some of the coolest swordfights, so it's all gravy, baby. The Rite offers no such perks, just pure, boring exorcism movie cliché delivered via bloodless, risk-free filmmaking and a leading man who's more leading mannequin. If it isn't on my bottom ten of 2011 that I'll be posting in February 2012 then this will be one shitty year.
1 Star out of 5