The power of Christ fails to compel ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The power of Christ fails to compel

The Rite
My rating:

There's as many ways to write a film review as there are to skin a cat. One is to judge the film on its own merits, evaluating it on how successful it is at what it attempts to do - which is really the approach I prefer. Another is to talk about the issues it raises in the broader context of the world around us - as filtered through my own perspectives - which I tend to do when I run out of things about the movie itself to write about. (Hey, these reviews are hard, okay?) I'm gonna take the latter approach with The Rite, since it's a film that deals with religious faith, specifically of the Catholic Christian variety.

Because I might've liked it better if I believed in those things.

Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) is about to graduate from seminary school, but doesn't intend to enter the priesthood; he enrolled only for the scholarship and as a means to escape his father (Rutger Hauer) and the family undertaking business. But his superior Father Matthew (Toby Jones) believes he has a calling, and invites him to travel to Rome to take a course in exorcism led by Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds). Still a skeptic, Kovak believes that so-called demonic possession can be explained by mental illness, and befriends a journalist named Angelina (Alice Braga) who wants to learn the truth behind Church-sanctioned exorcists. Father Xavier then sends him to meet Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), an experienced exorcist with decidedly unorthodox methods. As they investigate a pregnant teenage girl (Marta Gastini) who claims to be possessed, Kovak will very soon find all his doubts and beliefs shaken to the core.

As I have previously mentioned, I am a decidedly un-religious fellow. And I suppose I am especially un-Catholic, since I'm pretty cynical about superstition disguised as dogma and Catholicism is one of the more dogmatic of the religions. I'm like Michael Kovak in this sense; I don't believe there's such a thing as demonic possession, only mentally ill people (not to mention suggestible people whipped into hysteria by the religious/superstitious milieu in which they live). Of course, this being a horror movie, you can bet it isn't going to take the "nope, nothing supernatural going on here after all" route. Which is fine by me, really, since I may be a skeptic but I also like horror.

Which is one of the main problems with this movie: it's not sure whether it wants to be a serious meditation on faith, or a horror movie. It tries to straddle the fence, and ends up not being particularly successful at either. There are a few jump scares (including a really cheesy one with a cat), the soundtrack goes all ominous and pounding during the exorcism scenes, there's some creepy whispering, there's a manifestation of a demonic mule... yes, a demonic mule. But the climax, which is supposed to be full-on terrifying, is dull. It's way too slow-paced for a supposedly titanic struggle between good and evil, and ain't gonna satisfy horror fans.

And it doesn't work as a serious meditation on faith either. I could say that the horror elements undercut the gravity that it's trying to maintain, but the truth is, I, personally, don't buy it. I don't buy its bottom line that to believe in the Devil - with a capital "D" - is to believe in God. I don't know why a Devil, who according to Catholicism's own beliefs is trying to corrupt humans into evil, spends his time possessing people. Especially when said possession results in nothing more than other people getting freaked out, feeling sympathy for the sweet innocent possessee, and ironically driving them towards religion. I don't buy a Devil who can't see such an obvious flaw in his plan. Anyone with any awareness of their own natures and the world around them knows that evil - the prosaic, small "e" variety - is so much more insidious than that.

Oh, but another thing this movie wants to be is a vehicle for Anthony Hopkins to be Anthony Freakin' Hopkins. His is a supporting role, but he owns the screen in every scene he's in. It's fun to watch, but come the climax, he goes into gonzo scenery-chewing mode, and I got the impression that the whole film is simply indulging him. Hopkins is undoubtedly a masterful actor, but only in a project that's worthy of his talents. In one such as this, he's just gonna do his own thing and pick up a paycheck, and all the while the director and crew are fawning all over him. It just goes to show that a movie starring an actor of Hopkins' stature does not automatically mean it's good. (You could call it the Ben Kingsley Syndrome.)

I'll say this about it though, its depiction of religious faith as armour against the forces of evil is a lot more effective than most Malay horror movies - mainly because it shows that faith is not easy to obtain, and even the most devout can lose it. (Yeah, and it'll be a snowy day in Hulu Kelang before we see an ustaz doubting his faith in a local film.) It's a competently made film, well-directed and well-acted, so that gets it 3 stars from me; it just left me completely unconvinced about everything it's trying to say. You might like it better if you're Catholic - but honestly, you're better off watching The Exorcist again. That's a film that's all about scaring the pants off you, and its meditations on faith were just background. The Rite reverses the two, which is where it goes wrong.

Expectations: yay Westerns!


k0k s3n w4i said...

just saw it. i'm a sceptic and an atheist, but i would have been happy had this been a competent catholexploitation. i like fantasy and so long as the rules of the world is properly laid down, i can suspend my disbelief.

i found it grating that the protagonist is a flat earth atheist. he could clearly see that in his world, the supernatural is at work. granted that he may not be able to trust even his own senses - and at one point, he thought he was going crazy. my question is, why should he trust what he witnessed in all further events? and the line of incredulity he spouted when the teen girl and her unborn child died - something about her being restrained? well, bad things happen spontaneously to pregnancy all the time. maybe she experienced an abruptio placenta or something. the film's really not meeting me halfway.

anyway, it might interest you that anthony hopkins is agnostic and injected father lucas with some degree of scepticism. sir hopkins was awesome as per usual, but his performance's a bit inconsistent, imo.

io9 article on how anthony hopkins interpreted his character in the rite

Charles said...

don't care about this one I'm afraid

MeLL said...

don't plan to watch it.

still waiting for your reviews on Black Swan and 127 Hours :D