Priest (2011) Scott Charles Stewart
Production Budget: $60 million
Worldwide Gross: $76 million
Priest is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans are at war with the vampires (which follows in a recent trend of non-vampire vampires but whatever). The humans had a human fighting force called the Priests in order to fight the vampires. When a truce was called between the two, the Priests were disbanded and forbidden to use their fighting skills again. One of the Priests that is generically called “Priest” (Paul Bettany) is brought out of retirement when the vampires kidnap one of his family members.
Now if you look at the trailer or read descriptions of this movie you get the impression this is a cheesy genre mash up. It is not to be taken too seriously and is there for laughs. Well, Priest has a few problems with that. First off, for a movie that is not to be taken too seriously, it takes itself too seriously. Come on guys, this is a world where a cowboy vampire fights a ninja priest on top of an old west train in a post-apocalyptic future run by the Catholics. There is no reason to play this up as if it could actually happen in real life. Yeah, silly stuff happens like the Priest getting a higher jump by running up stones in mid air thrown by another priest. But everything is brought back down by the completely lifeless acting of everyone. A movie that I was reminded of which I will reference constantly during this review is John Carpenter’s Vampires (again, being such a huge film snob I reference a cheesy B movie). In that movie you had an action horror movie which is, for the most part, played straight. But you also had the ever lovable James Woods acting badass and throwing out cheesy one liners. The cast took the events seriously, but that didn’t mean they could not pal around with one another or have *gasp * a personality. You got the feeling the team had been around for a while and if they weren’t killing vampires, they would be palling around a construction site or something. In Priest everyone is so lifeless and boring. Paul Bettany just sits around the whole time and is always stern faced and dour. It is like everyone took an Ambien before shooting.
The other problem with this mash up is that they mash up too many genres. Priest is a vampire movie, a Mad Max style movie, an Equilibrium rip off which is also a Matrix rip off, a monster movie, a spaghetti western, and a kung fu movie. When someone like Jon Favreau has trouble mixing two elements like Cowboys and Aliens, then what chance does Scott Charles Stewart have with mixing half a dozen elements? It seemed like the writing spent so much time trying to justify how all these elements exist in this world that it couldn’t focus on the actual plot or the characters. This leads into my biggest problems with the movie.
This movie had neither a good story nor interesting characters. The writers again were too focused on making Priest a mysterious badass that they spent no time on why we should care about what he is doing or why we should pay attention to him. Again, I know I am going to get flack for slamming the plot of a movie like Priest. Keep in mind though that I have no problem with a movie with a far fetched plot as long as the elements are set up clearly and the world is internally consistent. Earlier I bitched about the fact these vampires are not really vampires in the traditional definition. I don’t even really have a problem with that as long as you tell me what it is our characters are actually dealing with. In this movie we are never really told exactly what these vampires are, what they can do, how they can become vampires, or why they necessarily hate humans. We are also never given what I think is a satisfying answer for why the bad guys are doing what they are doing other than they are just evil. Then there are the nagging things about the story which don’t amount to anything. Take for instance the Church’s hard line stance that the vampire threat no longer exists. The Priest says he is going out to look for his relative and to eliminate the vampire threat. To which, the Church leaders threaten there will be consequences. This leads the viewer to believe either the church elders are either incredibly inept, or that they are in league with the vampires somehow. However, this plot point is never followed up on and doesn’t factor into anything. Let’s go back to John Carpenter’s Vampires as an example. In that movie we are told exactly what these vampires are, what they can do, how they become vampires, what the main bad guy wants, and gives us all characters that are memorable and distinct. Again, I’m not looking for Shakespeare. I don’t mind if you are making a cheesy vampire movie, but at least spend a little time so that I’m not sitting in the middle of the movie saying to myself “What the fuck is going on!?”
The action in this movie is spaced out too far so boredom sets in and the action we do get is uninteresting. I mentioned earlier that we aren’t really told anything about the vampires (other than they are a generic snarling beast). That factors into the action because if I don’t know what they are capable of I don’t know why I should think they are any match for the Priest. In fact, of the times Priest has to fight the vampires they are all squash matches. Yawn. Even if I weren’t factoring that into the action, I found no one of the fight scenes to be all that interesting. There was nothing that stuck out as all that memorable or of note.
It is bad when a movie barely over 80 minutes feels like an eternity but Priest accomplishes that. The plot sucks, the characters are flat and lifeless, the action is uninteresting, and the concept is not played up to its full potential. This film cannot even be enjoyed in a ‘so bad it’s good’ way because there isn’t enough there to mock and, again, the lifeless tone. Don’t waste your time with this.