The Last Rite begins with slight promise, but it ultimately becomes a misfire of a possession story with nothing new or exciting up its sleeve.
The Last Rite is a new horror film directed by Leroy Kincaide, starring Bethan Waller as Lucy, a medical student who begins suffering from sleep paralysis and seeing a strange, hooded man in a top hat stalking her in her home. She tries to confide in her boyfriend (Johnny Fleming), but he doesn’t believe her, and so Lucy has no choice but to contact a local priest (Kit Smith) as she finds herself losing control of her body … and from there, pretty much everything you might predict would happen ends up happening. Straight away, that’s the biggest of many problems that The Last Rite suffers from. This is a film that stands out in very few places. It has nothing new to bring to the horror genre, and it doesn’t have nearly enough of a remarkable execution to overlook how tired its story and characters are.
Bethan Waller is far and away the best part of the film, doing all of the emotional heavy lifting as her character is tormented and terrified by the mysterious presence. Even towards the end of the film, when her character is possessed and she has to act crazy and animalistic, she sells it about as well as anyone possibly could. Johnny Fleming also gives a really good performance for what he has to work with, but his character is far too unlikeable and inconsistent to warrant any investment. He flip-flops between behaving sugary-sweet towards his girlfriend (which initially made me deeply care for this couple) and irrationally angry and neglectful. It got to a point where I initially thought that whatever supernatural force was haunting Lucy was also somehow altering her boyfriend’s mental state, but that theory ended up going nowhere.
The boyfriend is not the only one at fault, however. Every character seems unwilling to do anything of worth to help Lucy for much of the movie, either because they don’t believe her or because they never think to do anything useful. This can work beautifully to create sympathy for a lead character, if there’s valid reason to consistently doubt them that plays into who they are or what they’ve been through. 2020’s The Invisible Man is a great example, in which the main character’s past plight and behavior make it perfectly understandable why her loved ones wouldn’t even consider giving her the benefit of the doubt. Nothing like that is present with Lucy as a character. She doesn’t seem like someone who would just snap and go crazy, making everyone’s inaction in response to her cries for help feel forced.
The Last Rite is the most basic, standard possession story you can imagine. The evil force behind everything has nothing of thematic relevance connecting it to our characters. The film makes an effort to give it such relevance, but that effort is very weak, mostly amounting to little more than bits of dialogue relating to prior stress that Lucy might be going through. If the aforementioned unlikeable behavior of her boyfriend is the source of such stress, very little was done to highlight that properly. It’s a very thin metaphor at best. The only other potential source of depth comes later in the film when the priest becomes involved and must go against the church institution’s wishes to save Lucy. But not only does this come too late in the film to be that impactful, but it turns the remainder of the film into a very watered-down version of The Exorcist, rehashing all of the same themes as that film without adding anything new to help it stand out. Even the sleep paralysis aspect, while serviceably handled, made me think of stories like The Haunting of Hill House that portrayed it even more effectively.
After a decent opening stretch that gets you curious as to what’s going on, The Last Rite lets its pacing drag for longer than necessary. The progression sometimes feels like it’s going in circles, with nothing furthered in terms of the plot, character, or overall investment. Even the exorcism itself is very underwhelming. Even if you didn’t compare it to The Exorcist and how much more intense and frightening that film is, the climax to The Last Rite is still not that scary or disturbing. It’s not shot in a particularly interesting way, nothing that shocking happens that hasn’t been shown in plenty of other films, a couple of shots are almost laughably awkward, and it all ends so anticlimactically.
The Last Rite is competently constructed and features really good performances, but it’s so by-the-numbers in pretty much every aspect. I can often forgive a familiar, predictable story if it’s told with enough prowess in the execution, but that’s simply not the case here. I can’t recommend The Last Rite to anyone other than those who can’t get enough of these kinds of exorcism/possession stories. The film lacks the depth, scares, and memorability to guarantee satisfaction for anyone else.
The Last Rite is now available to watch on digital and on demand.