The film stars Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciarán Hinds, and Rutger Hauer. Shot in Rome, Budapest, and Blue Island, it was released on January 28, 2011 and grossed $32 million domestically.
Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) is the son of a successful funeral home owner and businessman, Istvan (Rutger Hauer). Disillusioned with his past job as a mortician, Michael decides to enter a seminary school and renounce his vows upon completion, thereby getting a free college degree. Four years have passed, and Michael is being ordained to the rank of deacon at the seminary. After his ordination, he writes a letter of resignation to his superior, Father Matthew, citing a lack of faith. Father Matthew (Toby Jones), apparently wanting to talk to Michael, attempts to catch up to him on the street. He trips as he steps over a curb, causing a cyclist to swerve into the path of an oncoming van. The young cyclist, Sandra (Marija Karan), is critically injured. Seeing Michael's clerical garb, she asks him for absolution before her last breath. Initially hesitant, Michael is unable to refuse, comforting her and performing a blessing ritual to absolve her of her sins. Seeing how calmly Michael handled the situation, Father Matthew tells Michael that he is called to be a priest despite his resignation. He also tells Michael that with the rise in demonic possessions every year, the Church needs more exorcists and says that he has the potential to become one. Father Matthew decides to send him to the Vatican in Rome, so he can attend an exorcism class taught by his friend Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds). Michael finally accepts after Father Matthew tells him that the Church might convert his scholarship into a student loan that would cost $100,000 if his immediate resignation stood. If Michael attends the exorcism class and still wants to resign afterwards, then they will discuss matters (hinting that he may be free to leave).
During classes, he meets a young woman, Angelina (Alice Braga), who is also taking the course. He soon learns that she is a reporter who has been asked to cover the course for an article in a newspaper. Father Xavier, realizing Michael is a skeptic and very tentative in his faith, asks Michael to see a friend of his, a renowned Welsh Jesuit exorcist named Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins). Michael agrees and meets Father Lucas at his home, where he sees one of the priest's patients: a pregnant sixteen-year-old girl, Rosaria. It is later revealed that she had been raped by her father, which led to her possession. However, Michael remains skeptical, even after witnessing several preternatural events, such as the girl coughing up three long nails and speaking English fluently. She pointedly reminds Michael of the last patient he anointed and of his loathing for his own father. He later speaks again with Angelina, who asks him to relay any information he gets from Father Lucas to her, as she has tried for an interview with him many times but has been refused. Michael declines. Meanwhile, Rosaria's condition worsens, to the extent that she tries to drown herself, prompting Father Lucas and Michael to have her hospitalized for further care. In the hospital, Father Lucas performs another exorcism on her while Michael observes. Michael leaves while Father Lucas stays overnight outside the girl's room. Late that night, she miscarries; the baby dies from cardiac arrest, and the mother from blood loss from major hemorrhaging. Disheartened, Father Lucas feels he has failed her. When Michael sees this he decides to confer with Angelina.
After the young woman's death, Father Lucas begins behaving strangely, exhibiting signs of demonic possession. Michael and Angelina later find him sitting outside his house in the rain. Father Lucas takes them into his house and, knowing himself to be possessed, requests that Michael find Father Xavier to perform the exorcism. Angelina and Michael try desperately to contact and find Father Xavier; they learn, however, that he is out of contact for three days. Learning this, Michael decides to perform the exorcism himself, with Angelina present. After constant rebuking by the demon and a long, drawn-out fight, Michael regains his lost faith and is able to force the demon to reveal its name, Baal. He completes the exorcism, and the powerful demon leaves Father Lucas. Successful, Michael leaves Rome, returning to the United States and to his life.
The final scene of the film shows Michael, now Father Michael Kovak, entering a confessional and beginning to hear a girl's confession.Anthony Hopkins as Father Lucas Trevant
Colin O'Donoghue as Michael Kovak
Alice Braga as Angelina Vargas
Ciarán Hinds as Father Xavier
Rutger Hauer as Istvan Kovak
Marta Gastini as Rosaria
Maria Grazia Cucinotta as Aunt Andria
Toby Jones as Father Matthew
Chris Marquette as Eddie
Marija Karan as Sandra
Torrey DeVitto as Nina
Mikael Håfström began working on the exorcism thriller in February 2010. Håfström began casting in March for the lead roles of Father Lucas and Michael Kovak, deciding on Anthony Hopkins and Colin O'Donoghue. The film was produced by Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) under their Contrafilm Studios company.
The film is based on the book The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Rome-based Matt Baglio, which was published in 2009. To research the book, Baglio participated in a seminar on exorcism by the Vatican-sponsored Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum where he met Father Gary Thomas, a parish priest from Sacred Heart Church in Saratoga, California, who was tasked by the local bishop in San Jose, California to become an exorcist for the diocese. Initially skeptical and reluctant, Father Gary becomes an "apprentice" to a Rome-based exorcist and his skepticism is soon replaced by the cold reality of evil and the ways it sometimes takes the form of demonic possession. The book traces Father Gary's life prior to and subsequent to their acquaintance in 2005 which involved Baglio observing over twenty exorcisms performed by Father Gary. Baglio indicates that the experience in writing the book "was just a very spiritual process and in a lot of ways, it helped me reconnect to the Church and understand the value of faith. This isn't something that is silly and prayer, it's very important."
While Baglio was still researching his book, producers Tripp Vinson and Beau Flynn (who had already produced The Exorcism of Emily Rose) learned about Baglio's book proposal and decided to purchase the movie rights. The producers contacted Michael Petroni (who was one of the writers for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) to write the screenplay. Petroni, a practicing Catholic, coordinated the development of his screenplay with Baglio, who was now writing the book at about the same time.
Director Håfström was invited to direct the film "intrigued by the fact that he would be working from facts, not just someone's imagination." While the film is focused on demonic possession and exorcism, Håfström also believes that "this story is about a young man finding himself and finding his way." In preparation for the film, Håfström attended some exorcisms in Rome although never being present in the actual room, he could hear what was taking place. Father Gary Thomas served as a consultant on the set of "The Rite" and indicated that the exorcisms in the film were "very accurate" with some "expected licenses" taken.
Warner Bros. released the film on January 28, 2011.
The film was generally well received within the Catholic community although questioning its classification as "horror". The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops noted: "Though shaky on a few details, director Mikael Håfström's conversion tale resoundingly affirms faith and the value of priestly ministry. Yet the effort to showcase the main character's spiritual journey as an old-fashioned chillfest weakens its ultimate impact."
It received negative reviews from mainstream critics, where it has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 158 reviews stating that while "Anthony Hopkins is as excellent as ever, but he is no match for The Rite's dawdling pace and lack of chills, as well as Colin O'Donoghue's tentative performance in the leading role."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 out of 4 stars and said, "I admire The Rite because while it delivers what I suppose should be called horror, it is atmospheric, its cinematography is eerie and evocative, and the actors enrich it."