Sometimes, the scariest horror films are the ones that spend the least amount of time trying to scare you.
The Last Rite tells the story of Lucy (Bethan Waller), a young woman struggling with sleep paralysis. Though she lives happily with her boyfriend Ben (Johnny Flemming), she is plagued by a dark shadowy figure determined to destroy her. Haunted by this demonic entity, Lucy pleads with Ben to believe her stories yet he remains skeptical. Eventually, Lucy reaches out to Father Roberts (Kit Smith), a priest who has never dealt with the forces of darkness directly. Even so, Father Roberts remains determined to help the young woman and sets out on a journey that may help him rediscover the depth of his faith in the process.
Written and directed by Leroy Kincaid, The Last Rite is an intriguing and terrifying exploration of the relationship between reality and the paranormal. Despite the deeply spiritual nature of his script, Kincaid grounds his film in such a way that it feels real. Relatively scant on the special effects of other big budget horror entries, Rite tells its story well enough that the film’s minimal use of effects feels just as scary. There is a simplicity to this story that never allows the film to open the door for larger conversations about spiritual realities while still offering all the necessary frights.
Based on his own spiritual musings and experiences, Kincaid has woven a tale which feels like two different films. On the one hand, he follows the evolving (dissolving?) relationship between Ben and Lucy. Although they have been together for some time, Lucy’s visions begin to expose the lack of trust that may exist between them. Although Lucy swears by what she has seen and felt, Ben struggles to believe her. To him, the paranormal is simply nonsense and he refuses to accept her stories. At the same time, Lucy’s experiences also trigger past traumas from her childhood that she has never felt comfortable sharing with her partner. As the intensity of her encounters with the man in the hat increases so too does the divide between the young couple as their issues begin to drive them apart.
At the same time, Kincaid spends a surprising amount of time investing in the character of Father Roberts. After he is contacted by Lucy, Father Roberts’ arc rises in prominence as he wrestles not only with the forces of evil but his own journey of faith. Although he remains devout in his beliefs, Father Roberts is a man who seems to struggle with the realities of the spiritual world. Advising Lucy to try ‘praying about [her situation]’, he looks to remain a safe distance from any particular spiritual engagement. However, when he realizes how serious the situation has become, his battle moves beyond the demonic. Whether he’s debating with fellow (ex)clergy or battling bureaucracy, Father Roberts’ greatest battle seems to be within the church itself. Through his insistence that Lucy get the help that she needs, Father Roberts seems to expose the fact that the church itself struggles to believe the spiritual realities of this world.
In this way, Rite becomes as much about rediscovering one’s faith as it does about fighting demons. From Father Roberts to Ben, many of the characters within this world have difficulties seeing past their own spiritual blinders. Dissatisfaction with the things God has (or hasn’t) done, spiritual trauma or simply a lack of spiritual awareness/interest all temper Kincaid’s characters and prevent them from initially engaging the oncoming terror that awaits. However, as their eyes are opened, their view of the world becomes larger. With this broader understanding of spiritual realities comes greater fear… but it also brings hope. With the darkness exposed, these characters have no choice but to cling to the light which potentially creates healing.
Sharply written and executed, Last Rite proves that the most terrifying truths about the world may lie in our blindness to them. Though the topic is far from new, Kincaid’s interest in balancing his jump scares with conversations surrounding spiritual realities allows him to create a film which challenges conventional horror tropes. Unlike most horror films, this isn’t a film merely content to explore the effect of the shadows.
For Kincaid, this is a chance to explore the light.
The Last Rite is now playing on VOD.