Once again the devil is revealed as real. Beau Flynn, one of the producers of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” is among the producers of a lesser screenplay by Michael Petroni, one of the screenwriters of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Directed by Mikael Håfström (“1408,” “Evil”), “The Rite” is unapologetic propaganda for Evil incarnate and his punning foul-mouthed demons. Here they possess an incested third trimester teenager and a crusty Welsh exorcist, as well as rallying frogs, cockroaches and a red-eyed horse as allies. One dark and rainy night, Chicago seminary student Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) performs last rites for a pedestrian hit by an Olsen Mitchell Roofing van that’s driving by St. Osmund College. His prof is moved, but frets Michael gets better grades in psychology and art history than in theology. Under threat of paying back a $100,000 scholarship, this son of a mortician is sent to the Vatican for a two-month seminar in demon-deconstructing with extreme prejudice. After one day, the American skeptic is excused from class and sent to Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) for a hands-on internship in exorcism. Michael, with flashbacks to the sight of his late mother on a slab, will see the light, despite eyestrain from too-dim lighting throughout the film. More legible is the Christian branding. The title and credits literally cross all the “T”‘s as icons of crucifixion. Theologically, this overly serious drama is of two minds. On the one hand, there’s an epigraph attributed to Pope John Paul II: “The Devil is still alive and active in the world.” And apparently there was a ten-page pitch by Matt Baglio about a real American priest who really went to Rome to learn exorcism, which inspired this screenplay. (Baglio and Petroni self-identify as Catholics.) On the other hand, Warner Bros. lawyers stipulate “all” of it is “fictitious,” and “any” similarities are “entirely coincidental and unintentional.” As Michael asks the alleged Devil, aka the arch-“deceiver,” according to Lucas: “How can I fear you if you don’t exist?” Hollywood is too invested in evildoers of all denominations to go there. With Alice Braga, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Rutger Hauer. 112m. (Bill Stamets)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.