What does evil look like? That’s a question that civilization has wrestled with since time in memorial as we seek not only to portray it in our artwork but also try to look for the warning signs before something really bad happens. It goes to the issue of wanting to be able to look at someone and be able to predict that they’re evil. They just look the part. While our culture has given us many visual shorthands for evil – beady eyes, twirling black mustache and all that – there’s no sure way we can know for sure what we’re looking at is inherently bad to the core.
The question of what evil looks like is at the heart of most movies about demonic possession and The Rite is no different. In the movie a young Catholic priest named Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) is sent to Rome to attend classes on exorcisms. A skeptic, Michael is partnered with Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an expert on the subject who has performed countless such rituals in his own unique way. But as they investigate the latest case things take a turn for the worst and both men have their beliefs challenged.
The first poster for the film takes a pretty standard and largely predictable approach to its design. The overall image is that of a cross, though one that appears to be on a wall that has suffered some fire damage, through which Hopkins’ face is peering out of, with his blue eyes being the only thing in color on his face. The whole idea here is to literally put the fear of God in the audience while presenting the movie as being largely a known quantity that may have a couple of genuine scares contained in it.
The copy toward the bottom strikes a tone similar to what we’ll see in the trailer by saying “You can only defeat it when you believe.”
It’s not bad, but the use of the cross is exactly the same route most every other exorcism movie, every drama set at a Catholic school or monastery or with any over over-arching religious theme takes so there aren’t any points for creativity being handed out here.
A second poster took the cross and turned it upside down, because that way it’s more edgy and no one actually cares, apparently, about how it’s portrayed. Hopkins gets billing at the top all to himself and he appears to the side of the image looking very creepy with his face half-obscured by shadows. The other images along the outside of the poster are similarly creepy: nails, someone writhing in agony and so on. It’s not as good as the first one, I don’t think, but this look and feel will be carried over into other elements of the campaign, primarily the website.
The trailer starts off with lots of Latin text, meant to immediately put us in mind of the Catholic church, and then some historic paranoia, with intonations of how the Catholic church denied (meant to be interpreted as covered up) a report about it dispatching thousands of exorcists around the world.
After that it’s a mix of scenes that show Hopkins and O’Donoghue going up against various possessed individuals or talking about how they’re going to go up against various possessed individuals, with a couple looks at a couple of the creepies that they are trying to rid of the demons, folks who are decked out in spooky makeup that’s meant to hopefully appeal to fans of more hard-core horror. There are also a couple looks that make it seem as if Hopkins’ character is at one point chained up himself but that’s never explored in favor of some more thrills and quick cuts.
The second trailer still spends a good amount of time on setup, showing how the American priest played by O’Donoghue winds up in Rome and winds up meeting Hopkins’ older exorcism expert. They clash over whether these people are simply sick or if they are, in fact, possessed. But then we see what the twist is going to be, which is that Hopkins’ priest seems to be coming under the devil’s influence himself, meaning that the believer and most powerful hunter is out of commission and the skeptic overcome his doubt and take over. So this one is a little more insightful but it still comes off as a pretty standard horror flick with little actual terror but lots of smash-cuts that will make the audience jump because they’re timed with dramatic music cues.
Of course the official website opens by playing the movie’s trailer. The first section of content after that, though, is “About the Movie.” There you’ll find a Synopsis that spends two sentences on the plot and two paragraphs on the credits block. There are also Cast and Filmmaker biographies and backgrounds as well as Production Notes that are available in PDF form for you to download.
“Videos” just has the two trailers while “Photos” has, by my count, over 30 stills. “Downloads” has both posters, Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and a Screensaver.
There’s a section here for the “Soundtrack” that lets you preview the songs there as well as buy the album from Amazon and one that lists all the sites that had a “Sweepstakes” going.
Finally there’s a section called “Exorcism Class” that has pictures from exorcisms (whether they’re real or not I’m unsure of – they might be an extension of the scene from the movie that’s shown in the trailers) and one called “True Events” that has links to stories about exorcisms, including the 2010 event that supposedly inspired this movie.
There are also links at the bottom of the page to the Warner Bros. Twitter profile and the Facebook Page for the movie, which has photos, videos and other updates, including more exorcism-related news stories.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The TV spots for the movie were split along the same lines as the two trailers, with some presenting a general exorcism movie and others making it more explicit that something demonic is going to take control of Hopkins’ character. The spots are just about as good as those trailers, with lots of smash cuts and dark hallways and all that.
Media and Publicity
If there’s been a massive amount of publicity I’ve completely missed it. The lack of press that has been of any sort of high profile says to me that this is one of those movies that’s getting sent to theaters on a wing and prayer in January without much support behind it.
Yeah, “January dump” pretty much sums up what I think about this campaign. The posters, trailers and website are alright, as are the TV spots that were run. It’s obvious that the studio isn’t completely abandoning the movie but it’s all so half-hearted that it’s hard to feel that there was any real belief the movie would break out and succeed at the box-office. So while there’s nothing wrong with the campaign – it may find some appeal among fans of more adult-oriented horror fare – there’s also no spark behind it that’s going to help propel it.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 01/28/11: Catholics seemed to be fairly unsure as to whether the movie was good or bad for that particular domination, though the marketing certainly played up the religion more than the horror.