Director – Scott Charles Stewart
Cast – Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Brad Dourif, Stephen Moyer, Christopher Plummer, Alan Dale, Mädchen Amick
Release Year – 2011
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I was not looking forward to viewing Priest at all when it first debuted, mostly because it looked too much like a ripoff of the ill-fated Legion(they even star the same actor), and low and behold imagine the look on my face when I looked into the film and saw that it was directed by none other than Scott Charles Stewart…the writer/director of Legion. Naturally, I waited until a boring afternoon in which I had a few hours to spare before going to a horror-related event, and sure enough Priest just happened to be at the local dollar theater and I indeed indulged. Going into this piece I expected it to be better than Legion, but not a great flick, and in the end that was exactly the case with this sophomore effort from an upcoming FX-laden horror director.
Centuries of war between man and vampire have left Earth a dark distopian land ruled by the Catholic Church who’s warrior priests won the war between man and vampire, sending the vampires to live in lowly reservations to avoid complete annihilation. When a warrior priest receives word that the vampires have broken their vow and kidnapped his niece, he is given no other choice but to disobey church law and track down the sect of vampires before they infect his niece. However, this simple kidnapping proves to be the cornerstone of a new war on the horizon, a war the Church is completely oblivious to.
I have a personal love for horror films that involve the Catholic Church, so this storyline appealed to me and was quite original in what it offered. We are exposed to a cool usage of priests as awesome martial artists who obey the same strict code of law as typical priests do, but do a hell of a lot of ass kicking in God’s name. I have not come across a horror film focusing on a devout war between humans and vampires(Daybreakers sort of had it, but not a devout war, so that unique idea played even more into my overall enjoyment of this storyline. As usual, the Catholic Church is somewhat the “bad guy” in this story, along with the vampires lead by a sweet antagonist referred to as “Black Hat”(Karl Urban; Doom, Ghost Ship), which leaves the Priest and a few of his sidekicks as the only protagonists in the film. Based on a graphic novel series written by Min-woo Hyung, you can bet your arse we are given cool characters in every fashion, which include the Priest’s gun-totting sheriff sidekick Hicks, a fellow ass-kicking Priestess, Black Hat, and a few other notable characters including one portrayed by Brad Dourif(Child’s Play series, Death Machine). While I liked this storyline overall, the screenplay came with quite a few issues that I found fault in, with the biggest one being the overly cheesy dialogue at times. I am all for a cheesy horror/action film, but I at least prefer to have a bit of creativity thrown into the cheesy dialogue, which was far from what happened with the dialogue in this one, which I was guessing over three seconds before the words were spoken. Aside from that I wanted a stronger climax, but (SPOILER APPROACHING) the film ends with an obvious nod at a potential sequel, which in turn made for a not-so-exciting closing sequence that was cool, but not as strong as I had hoped for.
Director Scott Charles Stewart did a mostly-positive job executing this piece, giving us great sets and cool visuals to sell this action-packed effort. The mood is dark and gritty, very reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic era the film takes place in, and he executes the horror fairly well for most of it being of the CGI variety. The look of the vampires was awesome, with them being more monster-esque than human, which I found to be a cool change-up for this often cliched vampire sub-genre. The execution of the fight scenes was so-so, giving us fairly positive action that adds nothing new to those who enjoy such films, and nearly all of the blood and gore comes via CGI as well. His execution of the characters was decent, with Paul Bettany pretty much portraying the same exact character he played in Legion, a cliché mess with no emotion whatsoever, which sadly carried on to all of the other mostly-emotionless protagonists as well. Now I was completely stoked when I first saw Black Hat hit the screen because I loved his look and Karl Urban looked the part very well, but much to my displeasure Karl Urban was overly cliché as well, coming off as a wannabe Joker from the Batman series but nowhere near as likable. His fighting scenes were cool and he kicked a lot of you-know-what (I’ve said “ass” too many times already), but ultimately he was a character who just looked cool and added nothing awesome to the film, which played into the biggest reason why this flick doesn’t make for a great watch: failure to reach potential.
Overall, Priest is a decent watch that contains some good positives as far as overall story and atmosphere go, but cheesy characters and cliché execution make for just another Legion-esque effort that doesn’t suck as bad, but makes for an OK watch if you have nothing else to do.