Exorcists and the darkness they witness firsthand have long held a cultural fascination, regardless of one’s faith or background. Interest in them is bound to get more fervent with the release of New Line Cinema's new supernatural thriller “The Rite” which deals on the controversial topic of exorcism.
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.”
Inspired by true events, “The Rite” follows skeptical seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), who reluctantly attends exorcism school at the Vatican. While in Rome, he meets an unorthodox priest, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), who introduces him to the darker side of his faith.
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.”
Opening soon across the Philippines, New Line Cinema’s “The Rite” will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.