‘Priest’ pits holy samurai against vengeful vampires

For some reason, the premise to Priest sounds great for a comic book series or graphic novel, but cheesy for the big screen. It turns out that these initial thoughts are only quasi-true.

The Paul Bettany religious thriller (how many times have we written those words together?) is a visual feast for the eyes. The CGI is well executed and the art direction is top-notch.

The story is where this 87-minute movie falls behind. The idea of having wandering mercenaries battle vampires is clever; priests are not too often thought of in a violent, justice-wielding light. However, the movie is unable to expand upon that premise and really bring it home.

We first learn of the warrior priests in an opening animated sequence that sets the mood perfectly. Cory Goodman, who wrote the screenplay based on Min-Woo Hyung’s graphic novel, borrows freely from the traditions of the samurai. The priests were celebrated soldiers during the Vampire War, but now that the threat has subsided, they are wandering mystics, castigated from society. Their tattoo cross, which sits above their nose and between their eyes, identifies them as members of the old breed.

"Priest" - Photo courtesy of Scott Garfield / Sony Pictures

In control of the warrior priests is the omnipotent “church,” which has an overt Communist and Roman Catholic feel to it. The high priests, including Christopher Plummer as Monsignor Orelas, sit in high chairs in large halls. Those seeking their wisdom must bow in their shadow.

These early scenes where we learn of the history and the present difficulties of the human population are like a great episode of The Twilight Zone. There’s a definite sense of metaphor and post-apocalyptic allegory in the air.

We then meet a character known simply as Priest (Bettany), who seeks the blessing of the church officials to hunt down the vampires who kidnapped his niece. Choosing to keep the peace rather than upset their enemies, Orelas and his fellow monsignors deny the request. Priest, a contemplative, yet pesky, man of the cloth, decides to take his future into his own hands. He leaves the walled-in city where the humans reside and sets out to find his brother’s family and his kidnapped niece. By disobeying the order of the higher-ups, he essentially becomes an enemy of the church, a vigilante with no protection.

The plot is invigorating and nicely reminiscent of many past sci-fi thrillers (there are definite influences from Blade Runner, Metropolis and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series). But the results are only middling. Bettany is never convincing as the main character. He barely registers any emotion, and his warrior mentality feels like a put-on. Karl Urban is far more entertaining as Black Hat, a former priest who has joined the side of the vampires. Plummer is also skillful in his few early scenes. Maggie Q is serviceable as Priestess, the Priest’s only religious friend.

The CGI is the best part of the movie. The vampires are ghastly beings and their design is unique (which is saying a lot). The action is pulsating, though the movie is so short that it feels incomplete. One more epic battle scene would have been appreciated; plus, more time in the walled human cities would have been nice.

Priest is a good film with great visuals and nicely designed settings. If all of the elements were present in Scott Charles Stewart’s movie, this would have been a worthy blockbuster.

John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • Priest

  • 2011

  • Directed by Scott Charles Stewart

  • Written by Cory Goodman, based on the graphic novel by Min-Woo Hyung

  • Starring Paul Bettany, Christopher Plummer, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Karl Urban and Stephen Moyer

  • Running time: 87 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and brief strong language

  • Bubble score: 3 out of 4

  • Click here to purchase Priest on DVD.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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