The Rite

The Rite

Exorcists and the darkness they witness firsthand have long held a cultural fascination, regardless of one’s faith or background.  Director Mikael Håfström attests "There is universal interest in the rite of exorcism. 

"Much of it comes from religion, but a lot also comes from popular culture, with ‘The Exorcist,’ from back in the ‘70s, still being the most famous film about this phenomenon. 

"All over the world, people are drawn to the subject, despite the fact, or perhaps even because, it can’t be proven or entirely understood.  The more you look into it, the more you see there are no easy answers."

As an actor, Anthony Hopkins has delved into the nature of evil, most notably with his embodiment of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.  Of The Rite he says, "There is a debate at play within the film: Is it the Devil?  Is there such a personification?  Or is it psychology?  Is it Freud or God?  Who can say?"

Irish actor Colin O’Donoghue, who stars alongside Hopkins in the film, notes that the story poses universal questions about how we deal with the unexplained. "There’s the psychological argument the idea that possession is a cause and effect of mental illness and there is the belief in demons and possession. And these are discussions that have been around for thousands of years. 

"The film depicts some pretty unsettling scenarios, and the fact that it’s inspired by real life makes you believe there’s really something to this."

The story of The Rite began as a book proposal by Matt Baglio, a reporter living in Rome, who was struck by the Vatican’s 2007 announcement of its initiative to reinstruct the clergy on the rite of exorcism with the goal of installing an exorcist in every diocese worldwide. 

When Baglio’s 10-page proposal found its way to the producers, they were immediately intrigued.  Producer Beau Flynn relates, "Matt heard about an exorcism school that was opening in the Vatican and became fascinated by that concept. 

"And in the course of his investigation, he met an American priest who was undergoing this training.  So, rather than an article, Matt decided to write a book."

The result was The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, which chronicles the events that inspired the film. "Exorcism itself is something that few people are privy to," says Baglio. "I wanted to not only understand it myself but also to unlock the mystery for others. 

"I met an American priest, Father Gary Thomas, who’d come to the Regina Apostolorum Seminary in Rome to learn and become an exorcist, and his experiences informed the central character of Michael Kovak in the script."

Producer Tripp Vinson offers,  "When you make a movie like this, you need to treat the subject seriously and with absolute respect. 

"Dealing with really big themes like good and evil, you don’t have to add a lot of bells and whistles.  The truth is more compelling than anything we can make up."

The producers enlisted screenwriter Michael Petroni to adapt the concept into a screenplay, even as Baglio was writing his book. "People are fascinated by the subject of possession because its existence remains an unanswered question," says Petroni. 

"The story was thoroughly researched through interviews with priests and chronicles of real experiences, and what they witnessed was frightening."

Father Gary, now a Northern California pastor and exorcist who served as a consultant on the film, explains, "The rite of exorcism has been in effect since 1614.  And yet, many bishops and priests have no idea what to expect in an exorcism, except that it has to do with Satan. 

"The opportunity that I had to train in Rome provided me with great grounding, insofar as I was able to work alongside an experienced exorcist and ask clarifying questions. 

"What really resonated with me is the fact that it is a healing ministry and gives priests like me an opportunity to help people who are truly suffering."

Håfström was intrigued by the notion of exploring the subject of exorcism with such a solid basis in fact. "It’s not a straightforward horror movie," he notes. "It’s a fictional film but within a very real and factual framework.

"When I read the script, I felt it approached the whole idea of demonic possession from an angle we haven’t really seen before, and it draws you into this world in such a suspenseful, powerful and entertaining way."

The Rite is released 25th February.