1 hour, 27 minutes
Ten minutes in to this week's indie-comic book adaptation vampire sci-fi action-fest "Priest," the audience is given a little primer into the world we are going to be a part of for the next hour-and-a-half. "There have always been humans. And there have always been vampires."
As the animated history lesson rolls, depicting the never-ending struggle between a race of vampires and mankind, and the Church's eventual solution via the creation of an elite corps of bad-ass "priests" who can kung-fu the vampires to death, all I could think was, "Ugh. Another mythology to keep track of?" This must be what it feels like to be one of those people who doesn't like comic book sci-fi vampire action movies.
Though adequately executed, "Priest," the story of a rogue warrior who defies the Church in order to save his kidnapped daughter from an evil vampire and his hordes, is at least a year too late to the party. At this point, even the most die-hard fans have vampire overload, and that's with two "Twilight" films yet to come. Everyone's lost interest, so when Paul Bettany's titular Priest goes before the council to ask permission to go and battle a vampire army long thought extinct, all I could think was, "Who cares?"
That's not to say that at another time, or perhaps given a more idiosyncratic undertaking, "Priest" might not have been something at least interesting. The story takes place in a blasted landscape, the result of millennia of war. Essentially, the film is a western, pitting monks against monsters. Kind of a "Kung Fu," without the misty flashbacks.
Bettany must leave the sanctity of the city, a place where people are under the impression that vampires are long gone, and venture into the wild west where vampires, at one time, reigned supreme. Now, the few that remain are locked on reservations. But what do you know, there's a whole new army brewing, and at it's head is something never seen before. A human vampire. Basically, in this world, this means a vampire that looks like you'd expect a vampire to look, as opposed the snarling, gooey eyeless mess that represents the rest. This vamp is a former Priest who fell in battle and was turned by the "queen" vampire. So that's rough. He's got a whole mess of bloodsuckers at his disposal, and he's taking them right to the heart of the city to wreak all the havoc they can stand. That is, if the Priests can't stop them first.
There are some interesting themes here. Vampires as an allegory for American Indians. The old, old standard about a western white man coming in to rescue the poor idiot indigenous people from certain disaster. In this case, it's a Priest-vampire who showed the regular vampires how to end their bickering and become a power after all. This goes back all the way -- to just about any film that depicts the natives in a positive light. If they are happy, it's because some white person was there first.
But, unfortunately, that's not what's going on here. Sure, the arrogance is still there, but the natives in this film seem nothing like the noble savages of John Ford pictures. Instead, the vampires are little more than snarling beasts with no eyes. That's not how the characters refer to them, but in practice, they're just grotesque animals. After finally seeing the vamps close up, I was cued into the trashiness.
The movie itself is, as I said, just adequate. The close-up shots look, for the most part, good. But the rest it is all just rote stuff. Chases, witty repartee -- there's nothing in "Priest" that you haven't seen before in much better films. The fact that this movie even got made in the first place is due to someone in a board meeting saying, "Hey, this one's got vampires! It's a slam dunk!" Sigh.
Though the visuals of "Priest" are just fine, I found that I couldn't care less about the story. And you really need to care, just a little, in order for a movie to be successful.
"Priest" is rated PG-13 for monster violence and language.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.