The announcement of Anthony Hopkins in a new horror film would surely see even the most dead of corpses sit bolt upright. And directed by Mikael Håfström who gave us the fantastic Evil and 1408 (okay, not quite so good), and that graveyard should be one hell of a party. Should be… so it’s with a heavy heart that I tell you, not quite.
Supposedly based on true events, the film centres on a sceptical seminary student, Michael Kovak. After he resigns, citing lack of faith, his Father Superior witnesses him giving absolution to a young woman involved in a road accident. Convinced Michael has a higher calling, whether he likes it or not, the Father persuades him to go to Rome to study exorcism. Michael agrees, but purely for financial reasons, much favouring psychiatric theories over the Church’s assumptions of demonic possession. Suffice to say, ensuing events find him questioning his non-belief, and it’s all a rather predictable outcome that doesn’t offer anything we’ve not seen before.
But, I’ve not mentioned the Anthony Hopkins factor yet. It almost goes without saying that Hopkins carries the film with his little finger; he is wonderful as the unorthodox Father Lucas, a multifaceted religious man that is quite refreshing to see, these figures tending to be rather one-dimensional. Here, Father Lucas is irritable yet avuncular, impatient with his subjects but wracked with guilt when he fails them, devoted to God, yet lonely. His answering of his mobile phone during an exorcism is a light moment—there are a few to be had here, including a reference to The Exorcist, brilliant!—but demonstrates just how damn natural the man is, as, while it’s amusing, of course Father Lucas is going to answer his phone. But most importantly, when he plays possession, it’s a genuinely unsettling experience, harking right back to Hannibal in his ability to portray the not-quite-human and make you believe him. As such, a film that by all rights should not excite, is singularly saved. May God, or indeed the Devil, bless his soul.
The Rite is available on DVD and Blu-ray from 20 June