The battle against the Devil, which is the principal task of Saint Michael the Archangel, is still being fought today, because the Devil is still alive and active in the world.” -Pope John Paul II

The Rite” is a supernatural thriller that uncovers the Devil’s reach to even one of the holiest places on Earth. Inspired by true events, the film follows seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), who is sent to study exorcism at the Vatican in spite of his own doubts about the controversial practice and even his own faith. Wearing his deep skepticism like armor, Michael challenges his superiors to look to psychiatry, rather than demons, in treating the possessed. Only when he’s sent to apprentice with the unorthodox Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins)–a legendary priest who has performed thousands of exorcisms–does Michael’s armor begin to fall. As he is drawn into a troubling case that seems to transcend even Father Lucas’s skill, he begins to glimpse a phenomenon science can’t explain or control…and an evil so violent and terrifying that it forces him to question everything he believes.

Directed by Mikael Håfström (“1408“), “The Rite” stars Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins (“Silence of the Lambs”), Colin O’Donoghue in his feature film debut, Alice Braga (“Predators“), Toby Jones (“Frost/Nixon“), with Ciarán Hinds (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2“), and Rutger Hauer (“Batman Begins,” “Blade Runner“). Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose“) produced the film under their Contrafilm banner.

The screenplay is by Michael Petroni (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”), suggested by the book by Matt Baglio. Richard Brener, Merideth Finn and Robert Bernacchi serve as executive producers, with Mark Tuohy co-producing. New Line Cinema presents, a Contrafilm production, a Mikael Håfström film, “The Rite.” The film is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. This film has been rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images and language including sexual references.

The Story Behind the Film

The Rite’ is purportedly based on a ‘real priest’ trained in exorcism, Father Gary Thomas, based in Saratoga, Calif., served as an advisor. He says he has exorcised demons from five people.

For four years, Father Gary Thomas had served at the Sacred Heart parish in Saratoga, Calif., a bucolic suburb of San Jose. But the 53-year-old Roman Catholic priest does a lot more than say Mass and listen to confessions — he is also one of about 14 Vatican-certified exorcists working in the U.S. and the real-life counterpart to the character played by newcomer Colin O’Donoghue in the new thriller “The Rite.”

Thomas became certified to practice exorcisms after completing 40 hours of study at the Vatican’s Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome. During his time there, he met a fellow student, journalist Matt Baglio, who ended up chronicling Father Gary’s journey in the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist,” which served as the basis for the film.

“I believe in the personification of evil,” Thomas said.

O’Donoghue plays Michael Kovak, a skeptical seminarian sent to Rome to become an exorcist who ends up hooking up with an eccentric Welsh priest, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), who performs exorcisms. Kovak ultimately must perform an exorcism on his mentor when Satan takes possession of the elderly cleric after one of his subjects — a demonically possessed young woman (Marta Gastini) who’s carrying her own father’s child — dies.

Thomas spent a week on the set of the movie, serving as an advisor to the film from director Mikael Hafstrom (“1408″). He drew on much of the personal experience for the consulting job; in the last four years, he has seen about 100 people who felt that they were possessed by the devil.

“I have exorcised five,” he said. “There are probably another two or three or four who I have been praying over regularly.”

Just as is the case with the young woman in the film, Thomas says that 80% of the people who come to him have been physically or sexually abused. Every time he’s called about a person who might be possessed, he asks what kind of help the individual already has received. If he agrees to a meeting, he sits with the person for an interview about how the “demonic attachment” began and asks questions about family history. “A lot of times it is mental health [issues],” he acknowledges.

If Thomas determines the person has a demonic attachment, he has a number of methods to free him or her before resorting to an exorcism. “You never try that first,” Thomas says. “You use other means of protection — sacraments, prayer, the Eucharist. What you want the person to do is say [the demon is] not welcome, it is not wanted, so go away. The person cooperates by staying close to God through prayer, through the sacraments.”

The best way to agitate a demon, Thomas says, is to pray over the subject; the person’s face, he explains, will begin to distort as the demon manifests itself, something that the filmmakers utilized for a sequence in “The Rite.”

“There is a point when Anthony Hopkins, you see his head look very unnatural in the way it is turning,” Thomas said. “That’s very normal. When you pray you hurt the demon, and the demon oftentimes will manifest itself in a very serpentine way.”