The Rite focuses on a young man named Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) who is studying to be a priest. Michael, the son of a very severe mortician (Rutger Hauer), is deeply troubled by his own lack of conviction. Though he is considering abandoning his pursuit of priesthood, the reality sinks in that if he changes academic direction, his scholarship will convert to approximately $100,000 of student loan debt. He is offered the chance to study exorcism in Rome. This is where The Rite briefly becomes compelling, as it becomes a sort of “school for exorcists” story. Michael challenges his instructors with probing skepticism. Then he meets Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) and his perspective changes.
Your level of enjoyment of The Rite may be somewhat dependent upon your own views of demonic possession. The movie is billed as having been inspired by true events. But as anyone with even the simplest grasp of common sense should know, demonic possession is a ludicrous concept used by certain religions to scare their followers. That doesn’t render movies about exorcism impossible to enjoy. The obvious point of reference for The Rite is the 1973 classic, The Exorcist. That vastly superior (though ultimately just as hokey) film is directly referenced at one point by Father Lucas. During the performing of a low-key exorcism, Michael asks, “That’s all there is to it?” Father Lucas replies dryly, “You were expecting spinning heads and pea soup?”
The problem with The Rite is that even though it initially approaches exorcism with a wary, questioning point of view, it ends up being all about spinning heads after all. The philosophical questions that are raised by Michael early on are completely dismissed in favor of hysterical, CGI-laden depictions of possession. Hopkins plays Father Lucas as a strikingly casual exorcist. He’s just a guy doing a very unusual job in a very matter of fact way. But as the movie becomes less interested in subtlety, Hopkins’ performance becomes overly hammy. He’s still fun to watch, but his performance devolves, along with the whole movie, into serious silliness.
Though The Rite is ultimately lackluster from a storytelling point of view, as a high definition presentation it excels. This is a terrific-looking Blu-ray, with a razor sharp image throughout. Much of the movie is dark, yet fine detail (such as the textures of fabric) remains strong even during the most dimly lit, shadowy scenes. The color palette is quite muted overall, but skin tones register as accurate. This is a movie dominated by dark blues, shades of gray, and black. But rather than coming across as drab, these deep hues are rich and well-defined.
Easily the most effective aspect of The Rite is its purposefully complex sound design. While the movie itself falls far short of being truly unsettling, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix goes a long way towards providing some legitimate audience-goosing. Much of the movie is rather quiet. The dialogue is sometimes presented with a little too much natural ambiance. It isn’t too distracting, thankfully.
There were just a few occasions where I had difficulty making out certain lines that were spoken in echoey locations. The exorcism scenes utilize the full spectrum of audio, with each channel receiving quite a workout. Effects swirl around, jumping out from the rear channels unpredictably. Lots of deep presence rumbles forth from the LFE channel. All in all, this is a very strong audio presentation.
Several bonus features are included, though none of them are especially interesting. Prominently hyped on the cover of the Blu-ray is a “chilling alternate ending.” Not only is this alternate ending very brief, I didn’t find it chilling in the slightest. There is a selection of deleted scenes that runs a little over 10 minutes. Marginally more engrossing is a short featurette called “The Rite: Soldier of God” that deals with the person, Gary Thomas, whose experiences as a so-called exorcist inspired the movie. It’s ultimately way too superficial to be of any real value. These supplemental materials are presented in high definition.