Directed by the Swede responsible for the excellent 2003 drama, 'Evil', 'The Rite' is the story of a young American seminarian (O'Donoghue) who experiences doubts about his faith and is duly sent to Rome to learn more about exorcism rituals. There he comes under the aegis of a Vatican lecturer (Hinds) who introduces him to an unorthodox exorcist (Hopkins). And that's where the fun begins.
Though it's Hopkins who stares menacingly down from the side of every bus and from every poster, the most interesting thing about 'The Rite' for local audiences is the presence of young Irish actor Colin O'Donoghue. The former IFTA winner (Rising Star, 2001) may be familiar to 'Fair City' fans, or indeed music fans who follow his band, The Enemies, but this is a whole new ball game for the 30-year-old. Not only is the Drogheda actor in practically every frame of what is his debut feature, he also manages to hold his own against Hopkins, while the great man delivers his strongest, post-Lecter performance.
Any movie taking this theme is inevitably going to draw comparisons with William Friedkin's 1973 horror classic, 'The Exorcist', but it's clear that Håfström is more intent on creating a psychological thriller than a spine-chilling horror. That approach, however, becomes something of a double-edged sword. Visually and atmospherically, the first 20 minutes are superbly crafted, setting us up for what we expect will be harrowing, Linda Blair-style tantrums, but that's not part of the director's vision. "What did you expect," says Hopkins' character to O'Donoghue's at one point, "spinning heads and pea soup?" The young seminarian did expect that and frankly, so did the audience, and the movie suffers somewhat as a result.
That's not to say there aren't chills to be found in 'The Rite'. There are, and most are supplied by Hopkins towards the end of the movie. The former Oscar winner chews the scenery, clearly relishing the free rein given to him by the Swedish director. As an observer of all that unfolds, O'Donoghue has a less showy, more thankless role, but he makes the most of his big opportunity and is deservedly being hailed as Ireland's Next Big Star. Elsewhere, Ciarán Hinds (does this guy ever deliver a less than brilliant performance?) and Alice Braga both catch the eye.
At the end of the day, 'The Rite' is all about two actors: a veteran Welshman proving he can still deliver the goods, and a young Irishman proving that he has what it takes to make it in the movie business: 'The Rite Stuff', you might say.