Review: PRIEST - Slender Vampire Tale With Shoddy Post-3D Conversion

rating: 2.5

Vampires. They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be good, they can be bad, they can be animalistic, they can even be half-bred. Not forgetting a tad moody. One thing they all have in common though is that they are absolutely everywhere. If you need a horde of evil, bring on the vamps. Based loosely on the TokyoPop series of graphic novels of the same name by Min-Woo Hyung, in the latest cinematic excuse, Priest, we€™re talking more the sightless, primitive, bloodthirsty creatures than the sophisticates of Forks, Oregon but the usual rules apply. They want your blood, and they€™re not fans of high noon. It€™s just that in this case they€™ve been wanting and hiding and warring against humanity for aeons, sometimes winning when human society is weak and self-destructive, but always eventually beaten back. Following a rushed opening scene that seems to have been added in as an after-thought, the animated credits sequence, and a nod to the story€™s origin, explains that sometime in the future, society is ruled by the Church in vast, walled cities, the few remaining vampires having been defeated and left in underground, fortress reservations out in the wilderness. The Church€™s main weapon in their victory were the legion of Priests, deadly warrior-monks who, now that the vampires are no longer a threat, have been relegated to manual labourers. Marked by crucifix, facial tattoos they are ignored by the very people they saved. One of these unfortunate souls is the taciturn Priest of the title, named helpfully, Priest (Paul Bettany). Living in the dark, nightmarishly industrialised Sector 5 Priest wanders through the sub-Bladerunner dankness, still beholden to his God, and the Church that has abandoned him and his fellow cohorts to menial mediocrity. Meanwhile, out in the wastelands, his scientist brother (Stephen Moyer of True Blood fame playing against vampire type) lives with his wife and 18 year old daughter Lucy (Lilly Collins), who unsurprisingly is a little fed up with isolation and has one eye on a little adventure. Unfortunately that adventure soon turns out to be an attack by the supposedly kow-towed and imprisoned vampires, who for reasons unclear decide to take her captive. Priest discovers all this when Hicks (Cam Gigandet), a small town, wasteland lawman, and Lucy€™s amour asks him to help track her down. Being dutiful he asks the ruling monsignors, led by a reliably gruff and forthright Christopher Plummer, for permission to leave town. Naturally, there being no vampire threat anymore, they refuse; and naturally, being a fighting Priest with familial obligations he ignores them. Which seems a fairly safe bet as after killing half a dozen cops he patently has time to just pop back to his flat and pick up a few things. And his motorcycle. Sent after them are 4 other reinstated Priests including Maggie Q (it€™s not made explicit but presumably they€™re all called Priest as well €“ roll-call must have been a hoot), and sooner rather than later within the incredibly brief 88 minutes running time things come to a head at the supposedly empty vampire hive Sola Mira, and the nearby town of Jericho, where the re-invigorated vampire horde are led by former Priest and now €˜human€™ vampire, Black Hat (Karl Urban). Black Hat€™s grand plan is to take his undead army into the city via a humungous, armoured train, which explains how they€™ve managed to move en masse within the sun-blasted country. How they managed to build/get hold of the train in the first place is another question entirely. There are a lot of unexplained moments in Priest, which perhaps isn€™t surprising considering how long they decided to take to tell the story. When Priest finds his injured brother and is told to find his niece and €˜kill them all€™, Moyer seems battered but pretty much alive. Two seconds later he seems to be in a coffin. When Priest and Hicks investigate the nearest vampire reservation they make it back up top only to realise the sun is about to set. They also steadfastly refuse to do the sensible thing and shut the door. At a certain point Maggie Q gives Bettany a large silver crucifix dagger which seems heavy with unexplained meaning €“ one of those game-changer moments, but it€™s no Excalibur through the breastplate of Mordred, more an annoying pain in Karl Urban€™s neck. But perhaps the most glaring inconsistency is why any of the vampires were kept alive in the first place. Who knows what was considered too weak for the final edit. There are nods to other, greater films (The Searchers for one), and the director Scott Stewart has even mentioned his decision to utilise the beauty of shooting on film to capture the desert starkness á la Lawrence of Arabia. How the painterly quality of 2D film stock was supposed to translate into the post-conversion 3D we€™ll leave to lesser minds. There€™s probably a decent film in there somewhere. Don€™t get me wrong, it€™s not on the cutting room floor, you€™d have to go back to the script to start putting things right. There€™s a play to make this initial outing part of a longer series as Bettany€™s Priest declares at the end that the war is €˜just beginning€™, and perhaps it is, but of what I€™m not sure. It doesn€™t appear to be the beginning of a major franchise but maybe Stewart can give Paul W. S. Anderson a run for his money. If there€™s one beginning we should all hope for from this disappointing and slender tale however, it€™s Paul Bettany making some smarter career choices. Priest is released int he U.K. from tomorrow and in the U.S. on May 13th.
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Film writer, drinker of Guinness. Part-time astronaut. Man who thinks there are only two real Indiana Jones movies, writing loglines should be an Olympic event, and that science fiction, comic book movies, 007, and Hal Hartley's Simple Men are the cures for most evils. Currently scripting.