Priest - movie review
Who's saying what
From here on in, instead of trying to explain myself, I'm just going to give them a double pass to Priest. If doing so means they end up thinking I'm an ass-kicking vampire hunter, that's just a bonus.
It's not drawing a particularly long bow to see the film as an allegory for criticism of the Catholic church's many and varied transgressions, though whether or not that was intentional is a question for the ages. Certainly, it manages to make a mid-life-crisis of faith seem cool.
Based loosely on the Korean graphic novel of the same name, Priest begins with a nifty animated prologue by Genndy Tartakovsky (Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Powerpuff Girls) that sets out a rough timeline for this alternate earth. To wit, men and vampires have been locked in battle for centuries, with the situation becoming so dire that a corps of elite warriors, "The Priests", was founded to sort out the bloodsucking pests. Eventually, humans withdrew into walled cities run by The Church, and The Priests were disbanded, with vampires all but wiped out.
It doesn't take a genius, then, to guess what the rumble is that interrupts the dinner of high plains prospector Owen (Stephen Moyer) and his family. Yes, it's a vampire attack, and Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet) seeks out the Priest (Paul Bettany) to tell him that his brother Owen is dying, and the vampires made off with his niece Lucy (Lily Collins). He implores Priest to help.
Priest takes his case - that vampires are still active - to the head religious ugly dude, Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer, gleefully eating scenery), who insists that there will be no such mission. "To go against The Church is to go against god," he barks.
Unimpressed, Priest rips his rosary beads apart in slow motion, wastes a few religious policemen in a barroom brawl, and rides out into the reservations with Hicks. They beat up a few familiars (humans who've submitted to vampiric rule) and suss out just where they might find Priest's niece.
Lucy, it turns out, is being held captive by Black Hat (yes, really; Karl Urban), a half-vampire - and former colleague of Priest's, left behind on a mission in a vampire hive (memories of which haunt Priest's nightmares). He's filled a train with vampires and plans to drive them to kingdom come, i.e. the cities, to wreak his revenge on humans or the church or something idk.
Tying up all these loose threads is Priestess (Maggie Q), who - along with her remaining fellow Priests - has been sent by Orelas to track down Priest and bring him in. Naturally, she has other plans.
Make no mistake, this is a very silly film. It's a jackdawish mish-mash of every film ever, most notably The Searchers and Blade Runner, and yet something about Priest's dystopian future Wild West is oddly compelling.
It's probably the fact that the whole thing is delivered so earnestly (howler dialogue included) that you can't help but be sucked in. Despite being saddled with a stock character, Bettany gives Priest a decent heart beneath the cringey catchphrases. Maggie Q also has a stoic elegance that brings more gravity to her role than you might expect. She also makes kicking vampires in the face in slow-mo look stylish.
(On the other side of the coin, both Urban and Plummer have a ball overacting themselves into a lather.)
The presence, albeit brief, of Brad Dourif (as a travelling snake oil - or in this case, "Holy water" - salesman) is a delight as usual. Gigandet has the same easy charm he showed in another fun dud, Burlesque; surely he's earned a decent script by now?
The costume and production design is also good; they all ride superpowered bikes that look like a mix between a jet engine and a 1930s teardrop trailer. The Priests' stylish uniforms - nubby Jedi-style robes, boxing bandages and bovver boy boots - are sure to become a cosplay staple.
Magically (thanks to moving the fangs a little further away from the maxilla), in designing Urban's choppers the makeup team have managed to avoid the dorky look that plagues True Blood's vamps; they look perfectly natural - surely that miracle alone deserves a special Oscar.
There's also plenty that doesn't wash. Why director Scott Stewart insisted that Bettany use a generic American accent (and one he struggles to maintain, at that) is a mystery, given that Plummer imports his best Von Trapp vowel sounds. If the cities are filled with global refugees, why couldn't the Priest be English?
The vampire design suffers from "same old" syndrome (gaping maws, eyes where they shouldn't be), though at least - unlike, say, I Am Legend - they have been well animated.
The stereoscopic 3D conversion is close to pointless, despite being clearer than many recent efforts; apart from some nice atmospheric effects with floating ash and embers, its presence is seemingly due to little more than studio greed.
Thanks to its unwavering commitment to its universe and logic, however, Priest won me over; Constantine had much the same effect. What's not to like about badass Catholic vigilantes who fly through the air to punch demons in the face? (Don't answer that.)
At the very least it's nice to have something to add to the "notable Catholics" gang along with Kanye West and Nicole Kidman. And as far as I know, neither of them carry a Bible full of crucifix ninja stars.
- three stars
Priest is in cinemas nationally August 25th.
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