Priest is one of those films that snuck into the cinema without making much fuss about its arrival, like a sheepish teen returning home late at night and then having to slur their way through a parental encounter, echoing sobriety with rubbery limbs, unruly lips and poor excuses. A lack of marketing can suggest a lack of budget, but more often than not it indicates that the studios are worried about negative word of mouth getting round ahead of the launch and so they keep things quiet so as to dupe the first weekend’s worth of cinemagoers into seeing their product before they know any better.
This certainly seems to be accurate in the case of Priest, an unknowingly hilarious, often dull supernatural action flick whose po-faced treatment of its watery comic book source material fails to recognise any of the underlying idiocies of its plot. While Thor managed to embrace the campy melodrama and have fun with it, the lacklustre gravitas which Priest possesses works against it and it just ends up feeling lazy.
The post-apocalyptic setting of the film will feel familiar to anyone who’s even vaguely interested in pop culture. A war between vampires and humans has raged for as long as anyone can remember, with the snarling, blind vamps having been driven into compounds by warrior priests while most humans have retreated to vast citadels run by the clergy or retired to frontier towns in the dangerous wastelands. It feels like The Book of Eli crossed with Van Helsing, which are two films you don’t really want to emulate, and aside from the opening animated expositional section, which has a pleasingly gory Anime style, there is little to engage the audience.
Strawberry blonde Englishman Paul Bettany plays Priest, the title character whose name also represents what he is, like some kind of ecclesiastical member of the Mr Men. After his order is disbanded in the wake of the vampire suppression he wanders the streets, wearing an embarrassing facial tattoo that makes him look like a grumpy hot cross bun. The capture of his niece by the resurgent vampire menace and the appearance of ex-ally Black Hat as the villain of the piece encourage Priest to risk excommunication by going on a rescue mission with Maggie Q’s Priestess and Steve McQueen lookalike Cam Gigandet, who plays a sheriff from beyond the city walls.
Priest joins a growing number of largely dissatisfying depictions of dystopian futures, following in the footsteps of Aeon Flux, Equilibrium and, dare I say it, V for Vendetta. Although unfortunately it is much worse than these three, if only because of the arbitrary construction of its story around some rather ropey action sequences.
There’s a bit on a train which will feel achingly unimpressive if you’ve seen Fast Five and the vague design of the slathering vampires is disappointing. If they were going to cash in on the popularity of blood suckers they could have at least given them Bieber haircuts and wan faces. Then there would be something to properly hate, not just an unknown force of hairless chips which look like rejects from a Dead Space game.
Loose structure, an excess of dank, drab imagery and supremely generic creature design makes Priest a movie which is average at best. The 3D is rarely used effectively and the brightness-sapping nature of the polarising specs means that even more quality is leeched from each frame, leaving the film as an empty, cynical carapace seemingly created to please no one.
Loose structure, an excess of dank, drab imagery and supremely generic creature design makes Priest a movie which is average at best.