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Priest is a Gruesome Gorefest

  • Jeffrey Huston Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2011 5 May
  • COMMENTS
<i>Priest</i> is a Gruesome Gorefest

DVD Release Date: August 16, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: May 13, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and brief strong language.)
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Run Time: 87 min.
Director: Scott Stewart
Actors: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Christopher Plummer, Lily Collins, Stephen Moyer

Wow, a world ruled by the ironclad fist of a Catholic-ish Church sure is a dark and depressing one. Vampires don’t help either.

Such is the alt-universe context of Priest, a PG-13-ified gruesome gorefest (it’s amazing/shocking/depressing what isn’t considered “R” nowadays) based on the Korean graphic novel series of the same name. If that brief description doesn’t pique your interest, nothing in this rote and oppressive horror/Western hybrid will change your opinion for the better.

Opening with an animated comic-book-style backstory (an aesthetic approach better suited for this thin testosterone-laden material), we learn of the centuries-long battle between humans and vampires, one in which The Church trained a secret elite warrior force known as Priests whose mission it was to capture and/or kill said vampires. 

The Priests were, however, ultimately ordered by The Church to disband when the last of the vampires were captured and locked safely away, no longer a threat to society. (Why they weren’t actually killed and wiped clean from the face of the earth is never explained but, oh well, details—who needs ‘em?) Now, humanity is confined to a series of walled cities, each controlled by The Church, resembling the dark, dank, and bleak over-mechanized dystopia of Blade Runner. The remaining Priests live in obscurity, having vowed to never fight again.

Well, the vampires have escaped so that’s about to change.

Terrorizing the outlying desert communities, the vampires pose a threat to the walled cities. The Church, however, and its Pope-esque Monsignor especially (the legendary Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music) wishes to pass off the news of vampires as mere fear-mongering rumors. Everything remains safe and secure, they say; no need to panic or distrust The Church!

So when one Priest (Paul Bettany, The Da Vinci Code) decides to break his vow of pacifism to combat the uprising, he does so in direct rebellion. “To go against The Church is to go against God!” they warn … and so he does, ripping his metallic rosary to pieces and, eventually, vampires along with it.

This premise, such as it is, is merely a basic mythological construct to set up a bunch of vampire-slaying for Jesus (and the rescue of a teenage girl from the vile clutches of the undead). The vampires themselves aren’t even undead humans, per se, but rather slimy eyeless shrieking creatures that look like they rose from the bowels of Middle Earth. And rather than swords or guns, the Priest does his slaying with little metal crosses that transform into lethal throwing stars. Deus ex Ninja, or something like that, with the fight scenes being gratuitously brutal by design.

On the whole, characters are simplistic and stock, with most—both good and bad—talking in slow, gravely, intimidating whispers with snarled frowns and piercing stares.  These ever-present scowls personify a one-note tonal approach that remains excessively earnest, especially when you consider the film’s thematic apathy. Here’s a popcorn flick in serious need of another layer or, at least, a sense of humor (although gems of dialogue like “You cannot win! I’m stronger than you ever were!” provide unintentional laughs).

Having teamed on last year’s supernatural actioneer Legion, director Scott Stewart and actor Paul Bettany seem to have an interest in Gothic combat set amidst religious overtones. What’s unfortunate is that these settings are employed only for iconography rather than ideas. Anyone hoping for something akin to the novels of Peretti or Dekker will be left wanting.

The closest it gets is with the Priestess warrior played admirably by Maggie Q (Mission: Impossible III).  She’s given the film’s one good line—“Our power doesn’t come from the church; it comes from God,” though that thought is never fleshed out—is the only priest that actually prays, and offers the lone good performance, exerting an emotional depth and conflict that, quite frankly, the film doesn’t deserve. 

In more ambitious hands, Priest could work as a parable but sadly remains just a Hollywood genre piece. Successful though it may be at what it’s trying to do, it’s far from enough. And even as it sets itself up for sequels, there’s little reason to have faith that future installments will redeem what must be endured here.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: None.
  • Language/Profanity: One “f” word. 
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Embracing and kissing. Mild sexual references, such as a man sticking out his tongue as he asks a teenage girl to kiss him.
  • Violence: Quite frankly, too numerous and detailed to mention. In short, it’s a bloody and violent movie involving vampires and the slaying thereof. To name a few examples: a great deal of violence involving fights and attacks with vampires. Swordplay, knifeplay, multiple stabbings, cuts, etc. Gunplay, with vampires being shot, to graphic effect. Lots of blood, including spurting blood after cuts and stabs. Blood is poured from a wound and into a man’s mouth. A man is blown to pieces by a vampire crushing him; parts of man’s body are seen afterward. Shooting vampires with flame-throwers. Various severed limbs. See a man’s partially eaten head. Vampires bite people, and we see one transform into a vampire. Chickens heads being chopped off, a bucket of bloody chicken heads.  Vampires feast on a human body. A vampire pulls the heart out of a man’s chest, and then crushes it. Three priests are seen on crosses, having been crucified. An ax is thrown into a man’s head. General carnage related to vampire attacks and fights with vampires.