On paper, action and horror can seem like a match made in heaven. Suspense and scares meets combat and destruction; complete with a supernatural presence. This combination has been hit-or-miss in the last decade (scales tipping on the side of miss). Flicks such as Blade and Underworld faired better using this formula than say Doom or the last few Resident Evil installments. So the brief 87 minute feature that is Priest, had a choice of either sticking to the pattern its predecessors in the genre have followed; or try shaking things up. Let’s just say, one will be able to tell exactly how this will be handled after the first five minutes.
Based off the graphic novel series, the story chronicles the war between vampires and humans.This war is similar to the Crusades fought in the Holy Land centuries ago. Vampires dominated the battles for years, until the church found a secret weapon in a group of gifted individuals, creatively titled “Priests.” This blessed army captured the momentum and vanquished the vampires into a quarantined area of sorts; away from the handful of fortress-like cities that still remain. After the war was won, the Priests were disbanded and scattered throughout the Cathedral cities.
The most talented of the bunch, Priest (Paul Bettany), roams the streets in robes stolen from George Lucas’ Jedi closest. Keeping a reluctant low-profile, he senses that the vampire creatures are still along the outskirts of the massive city walls. His instincts prove true, when a young local sheriff (Cam Gigandet) goes looking for Priest, alerting him about a deadly attack on his brother’s (True Blood’s Stephen Moyer doing a cameo – or favor) land. Priest learns that his bro’s 18 year-old daughter (Lily Collins) has been taken by this rogue colony, and begs the head of the catholic order (Christopher Plummer) to allow him to leave the confines of the city to investigate. When he is told to behave, he goes against orders; and with the help of the ambitious, yet in over-his-head sheriff, they track down the vamps that kidnapped his last remaining relative.
No…There is no depiction of the great war between vampires and mankind. Unless you count the quick Anime that ran in the beginning to bring the audience up-to-speed on the back-story. It’s pretty much our quiet duo (each of them say about two sentences in every scene) riding motorcycles taken off the set of Escape from New York or Beyond Thunderdome, through baron wastelands.
The scenery and coloring are designed to show an apocalyptic atmosphere. Think the 2010’s Book of Eli. When the action takes place against vampires, who are more creature-like than human (no eyes, walk on all fours, have a body like Gollum on steroids, can‘t speak), the fight choreography is emulating a videogame. Our lead isn’t armed with a ton of cool weapons (mainly knives & cross-shaped shooting stars); but the CGI vamp action is executed well enough to catch the eye. Issue that arises is that these are the only times where the characters begin to have a pulse.
Karl Urban ends up being the antagonist (finally) and his character is the most intriguing, since little development is given to any of the others. Why these Priests are so special is vaguely expounded upon. It’s just a shame Urban’s scenes were all too short, save for the uneventful final one-on-one battle. Whether or not writer Cory Goodman & director Scott Charles Stewart were sticking to the Korean comic this story was based off (a western-horror), the cinematography suggest they were big fans of the Star War’s footage on Tatooine. You know, when Anakin Skywalker snapped and started slashing up “Sand People.” And when you factor in the set designs and technology they tossed in, it felt as if John Carpenter decided to make a third Snake Plissken movie (Escape from NY & L.A.). At least they provided a nice scope of the surroundings.
Frankly, that is one of the few elements that kept yours truly interested – comparing sequences to cinema’s past – since the under-developed story will fail to keep your attention. With that said, one will enjoy their over-indulgence in the cinematic wide-shots they constantly execute. After you realize the dialogue is essentially worthless, and the story is about as smooth as sandpaper, the visuals are the only elements to keep one attentive, as this story quickly moves into a new setting (inside mountains, beat-up towns, and a train for good measure). Although, the epic sounding musical score is so out of place, and introduced at all the wrong times, it will get you chuckling. The sounds needed to be moody, not Passion of the Christ.
Overall, Priest probably has enough sustenance to please the niche market of this genre. It’s not painful to sit through but it will not give your system a jolt. Be sure to save your money and avoid doing the 3D screenings. The atmosphere is there, but the uncontrollable tone, cardboard characters, and fundamental screenplay & edit, suggests that a re-watch of Blade II may satisfy your craving for this type of material. The filmmakers played it a little too safe here. Someone needs to go for it and try to evolve this genre.
RATING: 2 out of 5