Overall verdict: 6.5/10
The Good: Awesome production design, well choreographed fights, atmospheric cinematography, clear concise directing, some underlying subtext and satire to appreciate
The Bad: Strays too far from its comic book source material, "neutered" PG level violence for a horror movie, thin narrative, uninspired dialogue, forgettable characters
Current Availability Status: In Cinemas 13 May
Visual effects developer-turned-director, Scott Stewart, delivers his second supernatural action film that claims to be “adapted” from the comic book “Priest”. Supposedly based on a Korean comic or “manhwa” of same name, the movie “Priest” has NOTHING to do with the original, not even the name of the squinting “strong silent type” main protagonist played by Paul Bettany. Fallen angels, deal with a demon, multiple time frame storylines and all other interesting elements of the original be damned. And perhaps it was for the better since the manhwa’s multiple storylines taking place in the Crusades, the old west and the future would just confuse the heck out of everyone.
So they crafted a whole new premise to appeal to the superficial summer action lover. And the one thing they did right was to give us vampires that do not sparkle in the sunlight. These vampires are all teeth and claws who swarm across the world at night attacking from giant hives, a clear reference to the “Aliens” franchise. These savage beasts have been at constant war with mankind since the dawn of time. A beautifully bloody animated prologue sets the back-story of the film about how mankind’s salvation came in the form of the Priests, holy warriors who battled the vampire hordes to near extinction.
This story revolves around one of the veteran priests who lives among the other downtrodden human inhabitants of a walled dystopian city ruled by the now totalitarian church. When he receives word that his niece was abducted by a murderous pack of vampires, the priest breaks his sacred vows to venture out of the city and rescue her. He is joined on his crusade by his niece’s boyfriend, a young trigger-finger wasteland sheriff. But as the duo soon discover, reports of the vampires’ return have been greatly understated. With a powerful yet familiar threat is leading the newly reformed vampire hordes, the wayward Priest and his companion must fend off supernatural foes and contend with a group of fellow Priests sent to hunt down their rogue brother.
“Priest” is one cliché storm of a film that commits the cardinal sins of a paper thin plot and forgettable characters thanks to the inexperience of first time writer Cory Goodman. The characters are so forgettable that the writer never even bothered to give many of them names. Paul Bettany’s main character is just called “Priest” (It is not his name by the way). There is also “Black Hat” (because he wears a black hat) and “The Priestess” (because she is a female priest) just to name a few. They are less like actual characters and more like blank character archetypes thrown in for plot convenience. Archetypes like Cam Gigandet’s hot headed Sheriff Hicks (a second reference to Aliens perhaps?) and Lily Collin’s damsel in distress Lucy are just as forgettable even though they do have names.
Failing to provide interesting characters or a good story, the least the producers could do was to deliver a holy hell load of violence with a hard R or M18 rating. Sadly the animated prologue has more blood and guts than the entire film combined since most of the gorier battles take place in darkness or amid dust. The Fights are well choreographed but they tend to be more stylish than practical and sometimes border on illogical. For example, a duel on a high speed train is awesome but none of the combatants ever thought of kicking his opponent off the side?
But despite these failings of the flesh, some salvation comes to “Priest” in the form of an excellent production design. From the dark cyberpunk inspired Church city to the post apocalyptic western towns dotting the hostile desert lands, great attention had been paid to make those places as believable as possible. Perhaps most memorable would be the tech on display in the film which includes futuristic motorcycles, tricked out shotguns and the Priests’ arsenal of deadly cross-themed blade weapons.
Beyond the props, flawless visual effects and startling CGI, the movie tries as well to inject its narrative with deeper subtexts. The Priests themselves call to mind stories of War veterans who were shunned by society and unable to re-integrate, a theme made most famous in “Rambo: First Blood”. The film also makes fun of how some modern churches twist their religion into a means of control, the hypocritical “holier-than-thou” attitude of modern Christians and their single minded belief that they remain “saved from evil” as long as they worship God. It is not intentionally “anti-Christian” or “anti-catholic”. It is more of a clever satire but there will always be the more conservative ones who would cry sacrilege.
At only 87 minutes long, Priest moves at a brisk pace and at the very least it is not boring. It would no doubt entertain action junkies and fans of post apocalyptic thrillers although more time could have been spent developing the characters or delving into the underlying themes that were addressed. Priest is spectacular but soulless, with a nice looking “body” but barely enough “blood” and “spirit” to satisfy the more sophisticated movie goer.
Go For it: if you love post apocalyptic thrillers like Resident Evil Extinction, if you are game for some brain-lite man versus monster action or if you are sick of romantic vampires that sparkle in the sunlight
Avoid it: if you are a fan of the original Korean Manhwa, if you expect in-depth philosophical and theological sparring of religious themes or if you are a very conservative christian and can't take satire.
Replay value: B+