Is anyone NOT tired of vampires? I didn’t think so. Fortunately, while Priest does have vampires, it isn’t really a vampire movie in the sense that we’ve become accustomed to. And it’s all the better for it. The monstrous villains in Priest are much closer to the I Am Legend dark seekers than Edward Cullen or Bill Compton.
The film’s priests are not priests in the most traditional sense either. They’re more like vampire-slaying Jedi warriors. Paul Bettany (The Da Vinci Code) is a legendary priest forced to break a vow of peace after his niece, Lily Collins (the upcoming Snow White), is kidnapped by a mysterious breed of vampires. Accompanied by her boyfriend (Easy A‘s Cam Gigandet) and an old comrade (Live Free or Die Hard‘s Maggie Q), Bettany grows obsessed with finding her. Basically, Maggie Q continues to kick ass and Gigandet continues to do his thing as the new and improved version of Channing Tatum. I mean that as a compliment. Really, I do.
Stewart (Legion) creates a cool post-apocalyptic world that is part Blade Runner and part Mad Max to provide the backdrop for this updated version of The Searchers with vampires taking the place of Indians and Nitro-powered motorcycles replacing horses as the ride of choice. Visually, it comes across very well on Blu-ray, but feels largely unexplored as we never get down and dirty with the futuristic architecture and instead settle for indoor scenes and wide shots of the skyline and arid landscapes.
Unfortunately Bettany, a fine actor in his own right, is no John Wayne. Or even Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson for that matter. Bettany’s gruff one-note Timothy Olyphant vocal impression renders all his one-liners unmemorable. Karl Urban (Star Trek) presents a formidable villain as the only vampire who can speak (or do much of anything besides slobber and pounce), but he probably needed more screen time to get the audience to buy into his merciless nature.
The film can be watched with optional commentary from Stewart, Bettany and more or with a nifty picture-in-picture track offering interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Otherwise, there are a couple short featurettes and a few deleted scenes that are entertaining if you’re interested in seeing how things look before special effects are added.
Priest is yet another film based on a graphic novel and it fully embraces its origins. The prologue, a motion comic explaining the history of the war between humans and vampires, actually works in its own cheesy way.
The rest of Priest is essentially a conglomerate combining aspects of about a dozen other films. It’s almost as if Stewart tried to homage as many of his favorite films as possible over the course of one 80-minute feature, something I find strangely admirable. If you’ve seen Doomsday, you know exactly what I’m talking about. A “greatest hits” album, if you will. There’s nothing original about it, but the thoroughly enjoyable Priest borrows from enough older movies that it somehow feels fresh and unlike everything else playing in theaters these days.
Priest was clearly positioned as a franchise-starter, but its disappointing box-office performance likely put a stop to that. Was it the title that scared people away? The timing of the release? Who knows, but I’m hoping it attracts enough of a cult audience on home video that talks of a sequel could pick back up again in a few years (here’s lookin’ at you, Boondock Saints and Pitch Black).