Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Priest (2011)


Not as good as I was hoping, but not terrible.  In this "western-fused, post apocalyptic thriller", humanity has been all but wiped out by weird alien-looking eyeless vampires.  The animated sequence that tells this grim backstory is probably the best part of the whole movie. In the midst of this horror, people turn en masse to the Church, which is conveniently able to offer protection in the form of the Priests--superpowered warriors who are able to kill the vampires.  Fast forward a few years and the remaining vampires are all in "reservations", the Priests are retired, and most people live in the gloomy, grimy Cities far away from the savage Wastelands beyond.  Until the family of one of the Priests--Paul Bettany as the Clint Eastwood character--is murdered and his niece is kidnapped.  The Church tells him it can't possibly be vampires, and forbids him to go a-looking for the killers/kidnappers.  You can guess how well that goes.  Much carnage ensues.

The casting here is surprisingly good--Christopher Plummer as the head-in-the-sand Church leader (along with Alan Dale of O.C. fame as his more reasonable counterpart), Maggie Q as the Priestess "secretly" in love with Paul Bettany, vampire heartthrob Cam Gigandet as the kidnapped girl's love interest, Madchen Amick and Stephen Moyer as the murdered brother and sister in law and parents of the kidnapped girl, Brad Dourif as a skeezy salesman selling anti-vampire tonic, and Karl Urban as the creepy villain (subtly referred to as "Black Hat").  And of course Paul Bettany is an excellent actor, though I think he is best when he has a twinkle in his eye and mischief in his heart, and he is far too busy being stoic and long-suffering and put-upon in this film to let any of that shine through.  Indeed, the script does not call for much (any) humor.  It is serious business, hunting the vampires who kidnapped the daughter of your former lover.

A minor nitpick--in a few scenes, the sound of the wind whipping through the desert dust was so loud as to be distracting from the dialogue (pointless though it was).  Perhaps this was an attempt at realism, but I found it distracting.  

Also, I was never completely sure how the Priests were able to defeat the heretofore undefeatable vampires--there was no discussion of the vampire mythology or any weakness or vulnerability apart from sunlight, which was "not enough" to save humans before the Priests came along.  It almost seemed as if the Priests' success was based solely on increased strength and speed. Which makes sense, I suppose, but that would mean vampires could theoretically be killed by conventional means--knives, guns, etc.  Part of the appeal of vampires is creating unusual ways for them to die.  Decapitation, death-by-stake, holy water, crosses . . . vampires who don't have these weaknesses are much less exciting.

All in all, it was just ok.  The backstory was fairly creative--a western-themed world ruled by the Church, menaced by vampires, and protected by superpowered Priests.  Unfortunately, the dialogue was lackluster and in no way memorable, and the characters were fairly bland (Bettany's usual raging charisma notwithstanding).  With a little more humor and a script with some zing, this could have been something.  As it is, it just . . . is.

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