Haven't you always wanted to see Anthony Hopkins grab a hot young priest and call him "kissy lips"? To see this thespian master hurl frogs around while screaming about Satan? Of course! That's why exorcism thriller The Rite exists.
Maybe you thought the genuinely original, disturbing flick The Last Exorcism would usher in a golden age of interesting new explorations of the idea of possession in the modern world. Well, you can stop worrying about that. The Rite proves that this popular subgenre is never going to shed its cheesiness. Somehow, The Rite manages to bring together every cliche of the exorcism story in a way that's so utterly unsurprising that you'll actually be a little surprised. At every turn, you'll think: Oh, maybe they're going to do something really weird now! Oh no - there really is a horse with red glowing eyes snorting at him. Oh, maybe they'll actually have Satan say something unexpected! Oh no - he's just mouthing warmed-over Exorcist smut and you-failed-your-father guilt trips.
By the way, Satan's catch phrase in this movie is "Hell-o." Like hello, but with HELL emphasized. No, I'm not kidding. That's the kind of movie The Rite is.
Probably the most original part of The Rite, other than the fact that none of the cute cats involved are killed, is that it focuses on the possession of an exorcist, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins). When the film begins, our hunky but reluctant proto-priest Michael has been sent to Rome by his seminary mentor, who thinks a special class in exorcism will bring Michael back into the fold permanently. We hear a couple of priests remark that there's been a sudden, steep rise in possessions reported, but it's typical of this film that this hint of impending apocalypse goes nowhere. There's been a global possession epidemic, but all we do is watch Michael mope about his bad relationship with his mortician dad (played creepily by Rutger Hauer).
For some reason Michael is so special - even though he's kind of a dick to all his priest mentors - that the exorcism experts at the Vatican send him out to meet the Most Bitchen Exorcist In Rome. That would be Hopkins, in full Hannibal mode, who explains his calling by saying that "God's fingernail is scraping" inside him. I leave it to the teen audience for this movie to come up with the requisite buttsechs jokes that such a line richly deserves.
Father Lucas introduces Michael to his exorcism technique, which seems to involve yelling at hot pregnant teenagers - who respond by twitching and acting passably Satanic. The first half of the film, when Michael is learning about Lucas' profession and finding out just how banal it can be, is actually pretty fun. There are some scares, some cool devil moments, and Hopkins delivers a wry performance which suggests that he may realize his job is all theatrics and therapy rather than Holy Mission stuff.
But then Lucas is possessed, and Satan starts following Michael around with a red-eyed horse who looks like he took a wrong turn while on the Syfy Original Movie set. Also, there are some inexplicable dream sequences where Michael sucks on Satan's fingers. OK, I made that up. But he comes so close to doing it that there might as well have been Luciferian licking! Of course Michael must overcome his self-doubt and guilt over his dad and other spiritual things in order to FIGHT SATAN! I'm not going to give you any spoilers, but let's just say that the story won't ever take you somewhere you didn't expect.
If you're looking for an occasionally scary flick with many moments of unintentional humor, The Rite should be your pick this weekend.