Jan 28 2011

ReThink Reviews: ‘The Rite’ Conjures Up “Catholic X-Files”

Rethink ReviewsTaking a deeper look at current and past films and how they relate to the world today.

Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.

Read his reviews online at ReThinkReviews.net. Watch his videos at www.youtube.com/user/jsjkim, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ReThinkReviews. ReThink Reviews’ theme song is by Restavrant.

The Rite

So an atheist walks into a religious supernatural thriller. No, it’s not the set-up for a joke, it’s what actually happened to me this week when I went to see THE RITE, a film about a young American priest named Michael, played by Colin O’Donoghue, who travels to Rome to learn how to perform exorcisms, a skill the Vatican finds is increasingly in demand. To witness the demonic firsthand, Michael is assigned to observe Father Lucas, played by Anthony Hopkins, who has been exorcising the devil’s foot soldiers for decades, and later in the film, falls prey to one.

But if you’re like me and aren’t religious, will THE RITE be right for you? This might surprise you, but it is, because in a welcome twist, Michael doesn’t believe in God either and thinks demonic possession should be treated by a psychiatrist, not a priest. He enrolls in seminary school so he won’t have to join his father’s mortuary business, and only agrees to go to Rome to avoid paying student loans. So a movie I assumed would be like Catholic Ghostbusters ends up being a lot more like the Catholic X-Files, especially when it turns out that Lucas, a former doctor, is hardly a true believer himself.

Something I thought would be silly but ends up being refreshing is that THE RITE treats demonic possession almost as if it were an emerging field of medicine for a disease that is only beginning to be understood. There are symptoms to look for, false positives to avoid, and a course of treatment where results aren’t guaranteed and some patients don’t survive.

When the evidence of possession comes, it’s not in the form of huge computer-generated demons winging about or rooms exploding with fire and brimstone. Instead, it’s pleasantly low-tech and creepy, like an Italian girl who hisses intimate details about Michael’s life that she couldn’t possibly know, the regurgitation of metal spikes, or darkening creases in someone’s face.
THE RITE is not about the fate of the world or a final showdown between good and evil, but about small, personal battles of faith fought by families and priests.
And if you’re an Anthony Hopkins fan who wants to see him go all Hannibal Lecter, you’ll get that too.

But as I watched THE RITE, I couldn’t help but notice the elephant in the room, and it wasn’t Satan. It was, of course, the child molestation scandal and the Catholic Church’s decades-long efforts to cover it up and ensure that the offending priests were never held accountable. When confronted with a real evil in their midst, not only did the Catholic Church fail to stop it, but they actually aided its spread by silencing the victims and moving the offending priests from unsuspecting parish to parish. It was hard for me not to think about this, especially in scenes involving kids. Because in the end, fighting evil is about taking action, not having faith.

The Rite is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “ReThink Reviews: ‘The Rite’ Conjures Up “Catholic X-Files””

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