Monday, February 13, 2012

DVD Review: Priest

Let me start with an observation. If modern days priests were comprised of an elite group of knife-wielding, ass-kicking warriors trained in the art of killing vampires I think a lot more people would go to church. I know I would. But alas, that is not the case. Yet I'm not the only one who seems to think that would be an amazing thing given that it formed the basis of a successful Korean comic series that was later adapted in to this feature film.

I never read the comic by Hyung Min-woo, yet somehow I'm willing to bet it's better than this movie. If I'm really being honest, I'm willing to bet just about anything is better than this movie. Okay. That's a little harsh. Priest is definitely better than Twilight, but really, the bar's not too high on that one.

Christopher Plummer as Monsignor Orelas
The plot of Priest is pretty straightforward, but before I jump in a little background is required. When the movie opens, we learn that the world has always been inhabited by both Man and vampire, with both sides locked in a centuries long war for control (aren't they always). Now these aren't your standard Eurotrash vamps, nor do they sparkle and seduce mopey-ass tweens. These vampires are more like underground creatures. The war has led to innumerable causalities for both humans and vampires, and if that's not bad enough, the ongoing feud has nearly destroyed the planet. In an effort to protect what remains of humanity, a theocratic government, known only as The Church, has taken over. The leaders have erected giant cities housed within prison-like walls to ensure people's safety. But that's not all they've done. The Church created an army of vampire hunters known as Priests, with the express mandate of overpowering the vampires once and for all. Turns out the Priests were better at their job than anticipated. The vast majority of vampires were destroyed while the rest were housed in "reservations." Fearing the power of the very Priests they created, The Church disbanded them after the war.

Cam Gigandet and Paul Bettany
The movie centers around one "retired" Priest (Paul Bettany) in particular. He's struggling with the fact that his order has been disbanded and you can tell that he's not all that thrilled with The Church's authority. Now not everyone has chosen to live inside the city walls. Some have opted to remain outside of The Church's cities, and, more importantly, its control. Early in the film, one such family is attacked by a horde of vampires, and their teenage daughter (Lily Collins) is kidnapped. Now she's probably the last girl you want to kidnap because we find out her uncle is the Priest we've been following up to this point, and the local sheriff (Cam Gigandet) enlists his services in hunting down the vampires that attacked Priest's family. But the threat is worse than they imagined. The vampire horde is being led by a new form a vampire (Karl Urban). More man than creature. And he's got a bit of his own history with our Priest.

Karl Urban as Black Hat
Here's my biggest problem with this movie. Priest is a straight-up action flick. Believe me when I tell you there is no real depth to the story, nor is there any character development whatsoever. Now this wouldn't be a problem if there were actually some worthwhile action scenes!! The fight scenes in this movie were boring as hell. Priest is supposed to be this supreme killing machine. I should be salivating for the next sequence of him kicking a vampire's pasty ass. Instead I was just waiting for it to end.

There are two big action sequences and neither delivered. The first involves Priest and Priestess (great names by the way) fighting a Hive Guardian. Essentially it's this giant vampire who protects one of their underground bunkers. The CGI is terrible and the hive is almost pitch black so it's next to impossible to see anything. If you are going to give me shit graphics at least let me see them! The final scene focuses on Priest trying to stop a train full of vampires from reaching the cities. This is where Priest finally gets to square up with Urban's Black Hat (again, great names). I've seen better fights take place on a grade school playground. They throw a few limp-wristed jabs and then it's all over. It was a huge letdown, especially given the characters prior relationship.

A Hive Guardian in muted light
My second issue with this movie was its pacing. The movie felt rushed, which was both a blessing and a curse. I'll admit this is a strange complaint for me, because my wife and I are typically huge fans of the 90-minute movie. It seems like every movie that comes out now is two and a half hours long. With Priest, I could have used a little more back-story. The plot was easy enough to follow, but I think the scene where Priest first sees Black Hat would of had more impact if we saw more of them together earlier in their lives. In addition, Priestess keeps telling us over and over again that Priest has made more sacrifices for the Church and his calling than anyone else, yet we never see them. We learn about one of them, however, again, I think a few well-timed flashbacks would have served the story in a big way. We would have understood his struggle and perhaps felt more for his character.

Lily Collins as Lucy Pace
Visually, the movie has a nice presentation to it. Priest, with his cross face tattoo and his black hood and cloak, portrays a man you don't want to fuck with. The vampire design is different in the sense that you don't see this take all that often, but you don't see them enough to really enjoy it. The scenes that were shot in daylight are gorgeous and take place in a barren desert backdrop, capturing the fusion of western, sci-fi and horror that was in the comic. The final scene on the train is a perfect example. It's like the old westerns where cowboys chase down a train with stolen gold on board. However in this movie the train is more steampunk than a traditional western, the horses are replaced by motorcycles, and the cowboys are vampires and vampire hunters. Other than that they are identical.

My money is on the train
I went in to Priest with zero expectations, and in the end that was probably for the best. The first 10 minutes started to pull me in, but then the wheels came off shortly thereafter. If you're really curious about this movie, I'd recommend borrowing it from a friend or hitting up Netflix or Redbox, otherwise I'd say pass.

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