directed by Scott Stewart
(Sony, 2011)

Take some basic vampire lore, mix it with elements of Blade Runner, Mad Max and any number of spaghetti westerns, and you'll get Priest.

I wanted to like this movie. I like vampire movies, and I have a soft spot for old westerns. I like its stars -- well, I have no opinion on Cam Gigandet or Lily Collins, but I very much like Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Christopher Plummer and especially Paul Bettany.

But this movie -- set in an apocalyptic world where a war with vampires has left humans entrenched in massive walled cities and the defeated vamps living in prison-like reservations -- is stiff, jerky and unaffecting.

Paul Bettany is one of the few remaining priests -- members of the clergy trained to be ninja vampire-killing machines -- who have been shunted aside in the aftermath of the war, left to do whatever menial tasks they can find. He's called Priest, because apparently they don't get names, and Maggie Q, another of the surviving fighters who nurses a not-so-secret crush on Priest, is credited as Priestess. (Other priests are not named on screen but are named in the credits as Brave Priest, Bold Priest, Strong Priest and Flashback Priest.)

The upper echelons of the church -- led here by Christopher Plummer as Monsignor Orelas -- deny there is a vampire threat because they fear it will weaken their power base, even as vampires rampage through the frontier killing whomever they cross. Among the hapless victims are Owen (Stephen Moyer) and Shannon Pace (Madchen Amick), who live a hardscrabble life until vampires come a-calling. They kidnap Lucy Pace (Lily Collins), who is the daughter of Shannon Pace and ... well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Leading the vampires is Black Hat (Karl Urban), a fallen priest who has been made into the first human-vampire hybrid. (Vampires, by the way, don't look like toothy people in this movie, but like big slimy fanged eyeless slugs.) Black Hat, who is never called Black Hat in the movie, thank God, was fighting at Priest's side when he was captured, and he carries a grudge, apparently because Priest couldn't save him. Priest defies the church and Monsignor Orelas to confront the vampires and save Lucy, aided by Hicks (Cam Gigandet), who thinks Lucy is swell.

"You would have made a good priest," Priest tells Hicks after Hicks manages to kill a few vamps unaided.
"Thanks," Hicks replies.
"Don't let it go to your head," Priest says.

Yeah, the dialogue just sings.

The story is based on the odd premise that, having defeated the vicious, seemingly mindless vampires in the past, society would have simply put the surviving vamps into pits and hoped for the best, rather than eradicated them entirely. Society also chooses to turn a blind eye to humans who become vampire minions, aka familiars, without stopping to think that the familiars might aid the vampires in some way.

Filmmakers also missed important details, like for instance the cross tattooed on priests' faces shouldn't get smeared during combat. Sloppy!

All in all, it seems like wasted potential. There was the nut of a good story here, and a solid cast to tell it. Some of the visuals -- the sets, especially -- were awesome. And yet director Scott Stewart couldn't pull it together into a movie that entertained. So, while the movie was obviously filmed with at least one sequel in mind, I hope they let this one pass.

review by
Tom Knapp

25 June 2016

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