Rated PG-13, 112 min. Directed by Mikael Håfström. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, Rutger Hauer, Marta Gastini.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 4, 2011
An idle film screen is the Devil’s playground – or so it would seem in this latest Exorcist knockoff that’s possessed of little soul but loads of atmosphere. The film relies more on the creation of a disquieting mood than genuine scares and neglects the building of any characters for whom we might feel a rooting interest. The film often refers to the crisis of faith currently experienced by protagonist Michael Kovak (O’Donoghue), but it is clear from the get-go that he is a man of little faith. Michael wants to escape his dreaded fate, which is to join his creepy father (Hauer) in the family mortuary business. So he enters the seminary on a four-year hitch because the only acceptable career choice apart from undertaking is the priesthood. Having heard no personal calling from God, it is unsurprising that Michael decides to abandon the priestly gig before taking his vows. Yet the Catholic hierarchy doesn’t let go of the young blood so easily and ships him off to Rome, where he is to take a course in exorcism. (Reports of possessed individuals are on the upswing, according to The Rite, and the plan is to place a certified exorcist within every diocese.) In Rome, Michael plays devil’s advocate with the instructor (Hinds), who places the pupil under the tutelage of practicing exorcist Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), who works in the Roman hills beyond the stuffy confines of St. Peter’s. There’s a pregnant girl (Gastini) with whom they primarily work but, still, Michael thinks that her ravings and fingernail scratchings are the result of psychological stress rather than the work of the Devil. Frogs appear in great numbers, rain falls with dramatic license, and disturbing predictions are made. But until Father Lucas is gripped by demonic possession, there is nothing that convinces Michael to fully embrace the faith. You, too, might come to fear the Devil were you trapped with Sir Anthony Hopkinscaught in the clutches of aberrant paroxysmal distress. Although it’s clear that this is a paycheck job for Hopkins, the actor deploys his bottomless reserves of come-hither fiendishness, which have become his fallback stock-in-trade ever since his iconic depiction of Hannibal Lecter. But his demonic possession makes about as much sense as Michael’s eleventh-hour acceptance of faith. O’Donoghue’s performance as the young doubting Thomas is also solid work, but the the character remains flat and ill-defined. The direction by Håfström (1408 and the yet-to-be-released-stateside Shanghai) delivers sinister atmosphere but few shocks. Håfström forgets that “God is in the details.”