Rite, The

 Anthony Hopkins was cast to elevate the stature of “The Rite,” the new, preposterously plotted supernatural thriller, but alas, he is defeated by a narrative that’s both ludicrous and pretentious.

To promote the film’s prestige and credibility, the filmmakers claim that the story is inspired by true events, as if that in itself insures quality or engagement. But don’t be misled by advertisement.

The film is produced by Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson, who had tackled the genre before with a similar but better film, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” (See our review).

Though the direction leaves much to be desired, the main problem is the screenplay by Michael Petroni (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”), suggested by the book by Matt Baglio, a journalist-scholar who reportedly conducted extensive research, published as “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist.” (I have not read the book)

Apparently, in 2007, the Vatican announced a controversial plan that called for instructing the clergy on the rites and rituals of exorcism

Based on this notion, the yarn begins quite plausibly by following seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), who is sent to study exorcism at the Vatican in spite of his own doubts about the controversial practice.

To protect himself and his value system, Michael uses his skepticism as an armor.  Moreover, in treating the possessed, he dares to challenge his superiors by asking them to take more seriously the field of psychiatry, rather than concentrate on demons and evil.

The tale picks some momentum, when Michael is sent to apprentice with the unorthodox Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a legendary priest who has performed thousands of exorcisms.

Assuming the relationship of a mentor-protégé, Michael’s armor begins to shatter.  A troubling case proves to be the test case for his beliefs and personality.

The case in hand seems to transcend even the skills and knowledge of Father Lucas.  Together, the two men delve into a case that science or rationality cannot explain or control.

By now there have been so many films and TV programs about exorcism that new features feels obliged to be self-reflexive about their genre.  The cycle actually began with William Friedkin’s 1972 Oscar-nominated smash hit, “The Exorcist.” This is certainly the case when Father Trevant taunts his protégé during a dispossession.  “What did you expect? Spinning heads? Pea soup?” Trevant asks, a comment that predictably elicited laughter from the viewers when I attended the picture.

 Speaking of humor, I think the giggles during the screening were not intended by the filmmakers, who walk a fine line between pompous pretentiousness and outrageous camp.

 Mikael Håfström, who had previously directed “1408,” gives the tale a sluggish, deliberate pacing—for no reason.  Not helped by a verbose scenario, which contains too many expository sequences and not enough dramatization of conflict or personality, Hafstrom fails to visualize the saga in an involving matter, resulting in a picture that could have been creepier and juicier, but under his help is simply dull.

Cast

Father Lucas Trevant – Anthony Hopkins

Michael Kovak – Colin O’Donoghue

Angeline – Alice Braga

Father Xavier – Ciaran Hinds

Father Matthew – Toby Jones

Istvan Kovak – Rutger Hauer

Rosaria – Marta Gastini

Credits

A Warner release of a New Line Cinema presentation of a Contrafilm production.

Produced by Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson.

Executive producers, Richard Brenner, Merideth Finn, Robert Bernacchi.

Co-producers, Christy Fletcher, Emma Parry, Mark Tuohy.

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom.

Screenplay, Michael Petroni, suggested by the book by Matt Baglio.