But it sure ain’t the greatest. Priest isn’t terrible, and while I understand that is in no way a positive tone to begin this review it’s a point I want to get in your heads right away. It’s not terrible, it just is what it is, nothing new, nor ground breaking. Having said that, the film is enjoyable as long as you go in with the right mindset. What you see is what you get, nothing more. There’s no deeper meaning or subtext, the story is totally straight forward and maybe a little predictable, but not bad.
Directed by Scott Stewart (Legion), Priest clocks in at 87 minutes, really just under 80 if you don’t count the opening and ending credit sequences. Meaning the film doesn’t really allow anytime for the story to lag or meander. We move quickly between plot points and the story is delivered seamlessly. For this film it works, had they tried to flush out the story into a sweeping, 2+ hour epic I’m sure my review would be much less favorable.
Spoilers begin below the cut, ye be warned.
Priest opens with a group of warrior clergy investigating a vampire hive. Quickly, but obviously not quickly enough, they find it’s a trap and flee. While escaping one of their own falls, is taken and presumably killed by vampires. The credits begin and through a neat bit of animation were given the back story of the Vampire Wars. Humans and vampires have been warring for years and it’s not until the Church establishes a holy order of vamp-ass-kicking Priests that humans even stand a chance. With the wars over, vampires are forced into high-security reservations and humans continue living their post-apocalyptic, dystopian lives in peace.
Jump to the present day, and those same Priests are living in obscurity since the Church has deemed their services no longer necessary. That is until word reaches our main, unnamed Priest (Paul Bettany) his niece has been kidnapped by vampires when they attacked her home in the wastelands. He is forbidden from rescuing her by Church authority, but of course, we wouldn’t really have a movie if he obeyed. Teaming up with a wasteland sheriff (Cam Gigandet), who just so happens to be his niece’s boyfriend, they venture to the closet vampire reservation to begin their search. They soon learn that most of the vamps have flown the coop, and with the Church not wanting to appear unfit to protect it’s people no one’s been made aware they’re gone. They press on to the hive featured at the film’s beginning only to find the hive isn’t as dead and abandoned as they had imagined. The vampires have been breeding a new army.
While at the hive they meet a Priestess (Maggie Q), originally sent to bring Priest back to the city, she joins them on their quest wanting to aid Priest because she’s got the hots for him. Ah yes, the love of a good man, woman’s only motivation. ::scoff:: They discover the new vampire army has been travelling the wasteland via train and are heading straight to the nearest city. And with Priest searching for his lost niece and all the other Priests searching for the Priest searching for his lost niece, the city is completely vulnerable. Realizing this was the vamp’s plan all along their only option is to stop the train. They plan to take derail it with explosives after they rescue the niece they presume must be on board. Of course, once on board the train they come face to face with the vamp army leader, the fallen Priest turned human-vampire hybrid, Black Hat (Karl Urban). Not giving away too much detail about the ending, everything climaxes with a battle on the train where they rescue his niece, vanquish the vamps and save humanity for another day.
Did Priest live up to it’s post-apocalyptic, western, vampire horror label? Kind of. While the city is definitely representative of a derelict and dystopian future it feels like nothing more than a rehashing of worlds we’ve already seen in Bladerunner and The Fifth Element. The western theme is a little stronger with dozens of western motifs scattered throughout the film; the town sheriff, the barren landscape, the final showdown on the roof of a speeding train. But what they did best was their vampires. These aren’t the heart throbs of Twilight or True Blood, these are gross, slimy, gruesome vamps. Think more From Dusk Till Dawn than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, the vampires in Priest have a strange resemblance to naked mole rats with their lack of eyes and giant pincer fangs, which makes them all the creepier. But while the vampires are creepy never do you feel truly horrified. They’re just the faceless monsters you know our heroes will defeat come the end of the third act.
So how was the action portion of this action-horror? It’s good, but again nothing we haven’t seen before. If you’ve seen an action flick in the passed 10 years you’ll see nothing surprising. Sometimes it’s quick and choppy, other times it’s in slow motion to highlight whatever sweet move they’ve choreographed. All in all, entertaining action sequences, but you won’t be replaying them in your mind days after viewing.
The performances were equally entertaining and forgettable. Bettany plays Priest as serious, somber and unfortunately, pretty flat. The brooding hero we’ve seen a dozen times before, which is a disappointment. I know Bettany is talented actor but I can’t help but think he was playing a character we’ve seen before. Both Karl Urban and Maggie Q are shamefully underused, but again, the flick is only about 80 minutes, there really is only so much screen time they could be given. In fact, Cam Gigandet as the sherrif is the only actor who makes his character fresh and provides the films only humor, little there is.
Which brings me back to Priest isn’t terrible. It’s an enjoyable watch, moves along quickly enough, has an interesting premise but when you boil it all down you just won’t care. You’ll watch it and move on with your life. Oh, and and if you’re planning to see it in 3D, save your money, nothing is really added except a few measly effects with floating debris. Big whoop.