By Matt Smith
It’s a well-worn trope in religious themed action horror films that the church is the corrupt force behind everything at some point or another. It is also well-worn that the protagonist of any such movie should go against the church while defining himself as a true believer and a follower of uncorrupted faith. There are also usually bullets, monsters (of one sort or another), kung fu in varying degrees, and the biggest cliche of all, the new monster that is “unlike anything we’ve ever seen.” The new film Priest, based on a popular Korean comic book series and starring this generation’s go-to guy for religious thrillers, Paul Bettany, excels in having all of these cliches wrapped up in one competently made but ultimately forgettable and somewhat boring package.
In the future, mankind has fallen from grace, and a giant all-out war was fought over control of the earth by vampires, who are at least presented here as slimy, running-on-all-fours creatures that give us both the disgusting parasitic imagery and the classical non-humanoid interpretation of things that go bump in the night. The designs are pretty impressive, even if they are uninspired and draw on great movie creatures from before, like the crawlers in The Descent and the slimy hellhounds of Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy films. Honestly, I’m just grateful anytime vampires aren’t presented as a teenage romantic interest.
A brief summary of the plot for those who are still interested at this point: In the future, a Priest, having taken a vow to kill vamps for the Lord, breaks with the church to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a couple attacked in the hinterlands of the post-apocalypse (the father is played by Mr. Bill Compton himself, Stephen Moyer). Other priests are sent to stop him, he uncovers a plot to turn humans into vamps and not just vamp food, and many a CGI-enhanced action sequence takes place. And Paul Bettany gets to be very very serious.
Still, no amount of viscous vamp action can save a movie as totally boring as Priest. The action sets are well done enough (I guess), but they’re uninspired, and a large portion of the movie feels like it spends a lot of time watching the Priest ride around on his futuristic post-apocalypse bike that looks like a leftover from Mad Max. The fights feature some pretty decent chop sockey action, but if I have to see one more badass throw some ninja stars (or anything) in slow-motion while the target is leaping through the air at him, I’m just gonna walk out of the theater. Unless it happens in a good movie. Sadly, Priest isn’t one.
I guess I could go on and on about what a waste of time this actually was, despite the good production values and better-than-they-had-to-be actors, but five paragraphs is about all I can muster. This movie’s a turd. I will, however, say that even Maggie Q was tolerable in the movie, but Bettany needs to put his career in a turnaround quick. Regardless of his success at filling a newfound niche, this is shaky ground to be on as an actor, and will likely result in an ever growing cesspool of projects if he’s not careful. I’ve got not that much else to say about Priest except that if you want to see something similar, just watch a double feature of the merely okay flick Legion and Hellboy II and don’t waste your time with this. And I was looking forward to a monster movie so much. Sigh.