Andy Bockelman: Scarey moments few, ineffective in ‘The Rite’

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

Movie at a glance

“The Rite”

2 out of 4 stars

113 minutes

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga and Toby Jones.

How do you make a movie on a controversial subject like exorcism when the definitive story has already been told?

It’s a tough task to undertake, but the makers of “The Rite” give it their all.

Displaced and disillusioned about his life, seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) no longer knows what to make of God, even after being ordained as a low-level clergyman.

This doesn’t sit well with his Father Superior (Toby Jones), who suggests that Michael attend an exorcism seminar in Rome before he makes any drastic decisions.

While abroad, Michael is introduced to Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), a Welsh priest with a long history of performing the rite of exorcism.

The latest soul in need of saving is a pregnant teenager (Marta Gastini) with whom the seasoned expert has had difficulties in driving the demons from her body.

Michael is still skeptical about the procedure, but as the young expectant mother’s condition becomes more and more unstable, even he has to admit that something sinister seems to be happening.

And, before long, the aura of evil starts to spread.

With a list of roles that includes Adolf Hitler, Hannibal Lecter and Titus Andronicus, Hopkins has always had a specialty for playing men who are capable of great malice.

Father Lucas may be a less meaty part, but the actor’s portrayal of the steadfast holy man taken hold by a malevolent presence gets more and more watchable as the suspense builds.

O’Donoghue is less than exhilarating as his reluctant new apprentice, whose incredulity about a higher power remains the centerpiece as he starts to see some unsettling occurrences.

No, there’s no rotating heads or backward crab walks, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t be unnerved by seeing someone cough up bloody nails.

Joining Michael in his battle against the scions of darkness is Alice Braga as Angelina, a journalist researching the ins and outs of exorcism who’s battling her own demons, as well.

Names like Beelzebub, Leviathan and Baal pop up in this restrained supernatural thriller, which is pretty light on the scares.

There are a few moments of successful terror, but the determinative factor of how many times you jump out of your seat has more to do with your knowledge of Catholic dogma than your physical reflexes.

However, while the chills may be minimal, the movie’s examination of the fragile nature of faith makes it watchable.

Michael’s crisis has less to do with the horrors that he sees during his time in Italy than it does with what brought him into the seminary in the first place, trying to escape from the pain of growing up with a distant, widowed father (Rutger Hauer).

This inner struggle boosts an otherwise rudimentary, generic story, which is supposedly based on true events — Aren’t they all these days? — though it’s a shame Michael couldn’t have been played by a more magnetic actor.

“The Rite” has nothing on a scare-fest like “The Exorcist,” even if Hopkins gives it some credibility.

The problem is that while horror novices may get a good jolt out of a movie like this, regular viewers of the genre will likely find it as exciting as sitting through church.

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