Director: Scott Charles Stewart
Cast: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
This is a movie that I wanted to like, should have liked, and while I sort of, kind of did, the one thing that kept me from relay enjoying it was its stupidity. Now maybe that’s a bit harsh, maybe it’s the “modern way of film making” for all the A.D.D. afflicted audience members that need bright colors and constant stuff happening on the screen, no matter how ridiculous, that I honestly find myself hating more and more as they continually ratchet up the cartoonish, and downright buffoonish “gee whiz wasn’t that cool” factor that you can’t escape in these day. Whew, that was a long sentence. But anyway, I guess when the only kind of action films Hollywood wants to make anymore are about guys in spandex fresh from the comic books, you have to expect the cinematic equivalent of jingling keys in a baby’s face to pass for entertainment. But damn it, when films like this make you pine for the “realism” of say, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, then you know something has gone terribly wrong.
Ok, sorry, just had to vent a little at my overwhelming disappointment at this flick that showed such promise, but ultimately left me unfulfilled. Ok, no more beating around the bush, let’s get to it.
In the world of Priest, vampires have existed as a separate race from mankind for a long time. An age’s long war raged between the humans with their technology and the vamps with their superhuman speed and strength. This turned the world into a wasteland and threatened to destroy all of mankind, when the Holy Church brought out their secret weapon: the priests. Think of these god fearing ass-kickers as Jedi, only without the cool lightsabers. These supermen turned the tide in the war and when this movie truly starts, the vampires have all been banished to reservations and humanity now lives in walled cities under the tyrannical thumb of the oppressive church that wants to control all aspects of people lives. That includes the priests who saved the world, and as their reward they get disbanded and are forced to work menial jobs. Yeah this film takes a very dim view of organized religion, so if such things offend you, be warned.
Anyway, one night the vampires return in force and attack an isolated farmstead, killing a husband and wife and abducting their twenty-something daughter. This unexpected turn of events turns out to not be really random when the girl turns out to be the niece of the titular priest in this movie. Naturally this vamp masher wants to go get her back, but he’s forbidden to do so by the church who just wants to stick their collective heads in the sand and pretend that the new vampire threat doesn’t exist. Well the priest isn’t having any of that, so he leaves anyway, forcing the church to send out more priests to hunt him down.
Now this movie does get a lot of things right. First, I loved the setting; a sort of western in the middle of a post-apocalyptic world that looks like it was nuked rather than vampire plagued. That is just cool and this movie pulls off that genre mash up very well. Then there are the vampires themselves. They aren’t just guys in evening wear with capes, or glittering brooding bad boys, or even the rotting corpses of traditional folklore. No these bloodsuckers aren’t even remotely human. They are eyeless things with huge jaws and claws, hairless, blue flesh, and to complement their alien appearance, they live in hives they make out of slimy bodily secretions, just like the big bad bugs in Aliens.
Then there is the star of the show. No, not Paul Bettany as the priest, but Karl Urban as a priest turned into the first ever human vampire. How exactly that happens, I won’t spoil, but Karl steals the show every second he’s on screen. He’s imposing, funny, and generally seems to be enjoying himself here, where as everyone else just seems to be going through the motions for a paycheck (yes I’m looking at you, slumming Christopher Plummer) or are just emotionless non-characters, like the aforementioned Paul Bettany who’s about as fun to watch as paint drying. He’s not really bad in this film, just god awful boring.
And that brings me to the stupidity that I mentioned earlier. Early in the film a guy, not a priest, but just a regular old Joe, tosses a single pistol round in the air, draws his knife, throws it at the bullet, and not only hits it, but cuts it in half. Now if reading that has you wondering why I’m making such a big deal over it, then forget I said anything, and you might be the perfect audience for this film. Unfortunately the too cool for school moments don’t just stop there. Priests can fall for fifty stories and not take any damage, they can shoot tiny targets flying through the air without even looking at them, and later one priest tosses two rocks into the air and then a second priest uses those falling stones as steps to reach a monster above them.
Now there’s being Jedi, and then there’s insulting my intelligence to an unheard of degree and this movie falls into the latter camp time and time again. But the eye-rolling silly bits don’t stop there. In this film, gravity is more of a suggestion than a hard and unbending law of physics as everyone – vampires, priests, and regular old humans alike – continually mock it. I can let such things slide in films like The Matrix where anything can happen in a computer fantasy, but when you’re trying to pull off a gritty horror world that in all other ways is supposed to be realistic, then these bits of superhero foolishness do nothing but shatter my already fragile sense of disbelief. Seriously, every time I was getting into this movie it would do some over the top nonsense that made me hate it just a little bit more.
As much as a disappointment this movie was, the Blu-ray from Sony is pretty darn good. First off the movie looks gorgeous. I won’t say that the colors are bright and vibrant, because other than ash gray, cold blue, and wasteland brown, there really isn’t much color to be found here, but the blacks are deep and dark and the image is clear and laser sharp. As for the extras, there is a commentary with the director and actors Paul Bettany and Maggie Q. There are the usual deleted and extended scenes, two featurettes on the world and weapons of Priest, and a blu-ray exclusive feature called “Bullets and Crucifixes” which is one of those neat-o picture-in-picture running commentaries.
Priest was a pretty fun film and if you’re not as put off by modern movie making sensibilities for what’s considered hip and cool as I am, then you may like it more. As for me, I just couldn’t get past all the stupid bits that assailed me over and over again to fully get into this film, and as such I can only give it a mild recommendation at best.