Based on a series of true events and featuring a gripping performance from screen veteran Anthony Hopkins, The Rite is the story of a modern exorcist.

There’s no pea soup or spinning heads here, and The Rite relies less on shock special effects than on the tension between skepticism and belief.

Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom has assembled an international cast, consisting of Irish actor Colin O’Donoghue (The Tudors), Brazilian actress Alice Braga (Predators), along with Welshman Hopkins, to produce a well-paced, intelligently written thriller that once again presents its audience with the well-worn cinematic theme of demonic possession.

To set the film in context, a 1995Newsweek Magazine poll found that 66 per cent of adult Americans and 85 per cent of evangelical Protestants say they believe the Devil exists.

O’Donoghue stars in the film as Michael Kovak, the son of a mortician, who becomes a seminary student. Just before he is to take his final vows for the priesthood, doubt overcomes him and he submits a letter of resignation to his father superior.

The senior priest refuses to accept the resignation, and instead dangles the carrot of a special training program in Rome for priests to become exorcism specialists, along with the stick of Kovak’s seminary scholarship becoming a fully repayable student loan if he drops out.

The film is based on a 2009 book of the same name by Matt Baglio, a freelance journalist living in Rome. For three years he followed the training of Indiana priest Rev. Gary Thomas, the real-life model for Kovak, as he went through intensive exorcism training at the Vatican.

Baglio approved of the film adaptation, saying, “I thought the movie was very good. I think it is the most accurate depiction of the world of exorcism of any film made. It strikes a balance between scary and serious. The movie is about figuring out what you believe. The heart of exorcism is about a person’s faith.”

Once in Rome, the sceptical Kovak is taken under the tutelage of Father Lucas Trevant, apparently another real-life figure who has done countless exorcisms.

Hopkins brings a combination of gentleness and the powerful authority of a great actor to the role, as he first tries to banish a suspected demon from a pregnant 16-year-old Italian girl who’s been raped by her father, and later has to deal with a personal confrontation with possession.

His younger protégé finds that he must come to a crossroads with his scepticism. Paradoxically, it is not until he affirms his belief in the material presence of Satan, and consequently, his belief in God, that he becomes effective in his work.

Don’t go to see The Rite expecting a remake of 1973’s The Exorcist. This is a much more focused effort, with a serious examination of the gap between faith and superstition, and the points where they intersect.

Hopkins’ role is absolutely spellbinding, as an older priest who is battle-hardened, but still maintains his core of human decency and kindness beneath a gruff exterior.

The Rite plays at 7:00 and 9:10 pm at the Yukon Theatre, and is rated PG for coarse language, violence and frightening scenes.