Russell Crowe’s casting in The Pope’s Exorcist recalls Anthony Hopkins’ role in The Rite

By Steve Newton

Hey, sorry if that headline made you think this is a review of the new horror flick The Pope’s Exorcist.

I haven’t seen that movie, which stars Academy Award-winner Russell Crowe as the chief exorcist of the Vatican, battling demons for the souls of the possessed.

The plot just reminded me of another Vatican-based supernatural flick, 2011’s The Rite, which also featured an Oscar-winning actor–Anthony Hopkins–as the aging exorcist.

In my role as a horror movie critic for a Vancouver paper I got flown out to Beverly Hills just before The Rite was released to see an advance screening and sit in on some roundtable interviews with the actors, including Hopkins. That was cool, because I’d loved his previous work in scary flicks like Magic and The Silence of the Lambs.

But The Rite really sucked, which is one reason why I have no desire to rush out and see The Pope’s Exorcist. And besides, no one will ever match William Friedkin’s original Exorcist of ’73.

Anyway, in case you were planning on watching The Rite on Netflix or something crazy like that, here’s my 2011 review:

The Rite is a horror movie about a seminary student who teams up with a seasoned exorcist to vanquish demons in Rome. Its plot hinges on the doubts that both the novice and the expert have about demonic possession, and by the time it’s over, you’ll be doubtful too—about whether the world needs any more exorcism flicks.

Ireland’s Colin O’Donoghue makes his feature debut as youthful skeptic Michael Kovak, who is carrying a ton of spiritual baggage after being raised by an overbearing undertaker dad (Rutger Hauer). Kovak is sent to Rome to study exorcism at the Vatican and learn about the trade firsthand from the unorthodox Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), whose own beliefs about demonic possession aren’t clear.

The Rite’s most shocking scenes involve the demon-battling duo’s ongoing exorcism of a pregnant teenager who may have been raped by her own father. It’s tough enough seeing an innocent young girl get twisted and contorted by the raging forces of evil, but when she’s doing the possession polka with a bellyful of baby, it’s twice as hard to watch.

Judging by The Rite’s promotional campaign, its backers are clearly pinning their box-office hopes on the idea that folks still want to see Hopkins get scary as hell, as he did to Oscar-winning effect in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs.

But although Hopkins shines when his evil-infused priest exhibits low-level nastiness—like backhanding a small child seeking comfort from his touch—his climactic exorcism scenes don’t ring true and aren’t very frightening.

Despite his best intentions, the 73-year-old actor just can’t cut it as the new Linda Blair.

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