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A demonic possession would be preferable to sitting through “The Rite,” if it weren’t for the sadistically marvelous performance of Sir Anthony Hopkins.

The inspired-by-true-events film, directed by Mikael Håfström, explores the story of Michael Kovak, admirably played by Colin O’Donoghue, and his harrowing struggle with faith while attending the Vatican’s exorcism training in 2007.

The film begins at a snail’s pace watching an at-home mortician beautify a suicide victim and progresses even slower; out of the two hours, it’s only captivating for about the last 40 minutes.

Although the dialogue is excellent, injecting clever comic relief appropriately, “The Rite” is too drawn out and struggles to maintain your full interest. A few cheap scares will momentarily speed up the story, but the stale soundtrack and mostly uninteresting plotline make it painfully obvious how many grains of sand have drained from the hourglass.

Luckily, the movie’s two stars provide several enjoyable moments during the first humdrum hour.

In his second silver-screen appearance, O’Donoghue depicts Kovak as dubious about religion, and unsure where he wants life to take him. As Kovak says, everyone in his family is either a mortician or a priest, so he may as well stick with tradition.

At first Kovak plans on attending seminary school for a free university education - anticipating resigning from the program after his courses are over, due to a conflicting absence of faith. But his plans soon change when Father Matthew, played by Toby Jones, informs Kovak that if he were to resign from seminary school, the Catholic Church might bill him for the education. As a compromise, Matthew recommends Kovak enlist in the Vatican’s new exorcist program; informing him if he hasn’t found faith after the course he may withdraw without cost.

The film’s connection with the audience begins to dissipate as Kovak arrives at the Vatican, and questions the Church’s religious teachings, skeptical of their value over psychiatrists and medicine. Thankfully, Hopkins’ introduction is at hand, and immediately his wit and charm command attention, purging “The Rite” from boredom.

What truly makes “The Rite” a watchable film, instead of a two-hour snooze, is Sir Anthony Hopkins, who portrays Father Lucas Trevant, an exorcist with more than 2,000 exorcism rituals completed. From the subtle twinkle in Hopkins’ eyes to sly facial expressions and perfectly toned witty comments, your interest in the otherwise underwhelming tale is permanently established.

Convincingly proving his mastery of acting, Hopkins’ incredibly powerful performance, of both savior and possessed, will immerse you to the point where the idea of demonic enslavement doesn’t sound farfetched.

Initially Hopkins represents Trevant as a clever priest who has experienced the life of a saint and a skeptic. However, after the loss of a patient the priest appears exhausted, demoralized and spiritually defeated.

Hopkins’ performance is so vigorously reminiscent of the actor’s Academy Award-winning role as Hannibal Lecter, at times it’s difficult to tell the difference. However, he does noticeably separate from his prior cannibalistic role, and exquisitely embraces the character of Trevant; his immersion into the priest is so compelling, when backhanding a child into a state of unconsciousness you truly believe Trevant thoroughly enjoyed the devious act.

Horror and thriller films open almost weekly, and while “The Rite” doesn’t stray far from normalcy, it’s a rare occurrence for such a motion picture to feature an exquisite actor such as Sir Anthony Hopkins. Simply to witness the masterful Hopkins at his best is certainly worth surviving through the movie’s underwhelming first half.

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