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Theatrical Review: Priest

Our setting is a post-apocalyptic world that’s been ravaged by a very long conflict between the Church and a strange vampire race. To fight the vampires, the Church has created The Priests, a group of specially trained warriors who’s specialty is vampire killing. The struggle is supposedly over, and most of the remaining citizenry is protected by the Church in walled-off cities.  But unknown to the Church, the vampires live on.  Outside of the city walls, in a frontier settlement, the daughter of a couple is abducted by the vampires.  Word gets back to one of the Priests (know simply here as Priest) about what has happened, with special significance to him because the abducted girl is actually his niece.  Priest leaves the city to try and find his niece, though it could mean excommunication from The Church.  Unbeknownst to Priest, there’s even more going on, involving a specific moment from his past.

That’s the basic premise to the new movie, Priest directed by Scott Stewart adapted from the Tokyopop comic series Priest by Hyung Min-woo. I am a big comic book fan, but sad to say, I don’t have any familiarity with this series.  I do have familiarity with Scott Stewart though as he directed last year’s Legion (also starring Priest’s lead actor Paul Bettany) and I wasn’t too thrilled by it, to say the least.  But, I thought the trailer to Priest looked pretty cool and so I was certainly open to giving it a chance.

And I’m glad I did.  I thought Priest was quite a bit of good, old B-Movie fun.  It mashes together a lot of familiar genre concepts with an overall Western feel.  The movie has a great look to it, and while it’s characters are somewhat simplistic, there’s still enough there that I wanted to follow their story.

I really liked the look of the film.  Since seeing the movie, I’ve now seen some little bits and pieces from the Tokyopop comic and overall it looks very faithful to the book with it’s actual production design.  Seeing this in live action though, I was also put in the mind of the art of Enki Bilal a French comic creator (and film director) whose work is best known (at least to me) for being run in the pages of Heavy Metal magazine.

I thought the visual effects were really nicely done, though for some, I know they’ll be biased against the use of CGI for the vampires and a reliance for Matrix-like techniques used in action scenes.  Personally though, I don’t mind the use of either, and as I said, I thought they looked quite cool here.  In addition, there’s a good bit of traditional animation used at the start of the film to immediately give us the history of the situation.

Priest is very nicely paced, briskly running under ninety minutes in time, without any real wasted space.  This is setting itself up as the first in a series of films, but honestly, I don’t know if it will have the chance.  We had a very small audience in attendance and with bigger releases like Thor and Fast Five out there right now, and even bigger movies to come, I don’t know if this will really succeed.  Regardless, I had a great time with it, as did the friends of mine who I saw it with.

As mentioned above, the cast is headed by Paul Bettany as Priest ad he serves the part well, with the right intensity but also with being believable in the film’s stylized action scenes.  He’s given some solid support with actors Cam Gigandet and Maggie Q.  Gigandet plays Hicks, the sheriff of the settlement who also has a personal stake in this.  Maggie Q plays the part of Priestess, who’s first assigned the duty to bring in Priest back to the Church, but as things unfold she joins him o his mission.  There’s some nice solid work from Brad Dourif, Christopher Plummer and Alan Dale for strictly set-up purposes.  Karl Urban plays the villain of the piece, known as Black Hat, and I’m just continually impressed by him with each part I see him in and he doesn’t disappoint me here either.

I chose to see this movie in 3D.  When I first saw the trailer for the movie it was in 3D and being promoted as being “shot in 3D” that certainly helped seal the deal for me.  Overall, I think the 3D is pretty good with this film offering up some real depth in scenes as well as doing a few in your face effects.  It does suffer some in some of the darker scenes.  Seeing this in 3D isn’t essential to your overall enjoyment though, and while I don’t regret seeing this in 3D by any means, I won’t give it a blanket recommendation either.  I liked it, but I wasn’t blown over by it.  As an aside though, the theatre that I saw this at, part of St. Louis’ Wehrenberg chain, had just added another 3D room, which of course was the one that we saw Priest in.  We actually had the pleasure of talking with one of the Wehrenberg higher-ups who was there to check everything out and he gave us quite a bit of insight into Wehrenberg’s plans for that particular theatre.  This was thoroughly fascinating to say the least and I certainly think it added to my overall enjoyment of the evening, but I digress…

Priest won’t change anyone’s world when it comes to it’s overall effect in the end, but still it is a fun diversion that’s very well made, looks great and has some solid performances.  I hope it does well enough for sequels, but I’m not holding my breath.  It’s good B-Movie fun though, and for that, I certainly recommend it.

By Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

2 replies on “Theatrical Review: Priest”

Excellent review Darren. I was debating seeing this, but now I think I will give it a shot, hopefully before it leaves theaters.

Just out of curiosity, have you seen Equilibrium and if so, can any good comparisons be made?

Thanks, Uriah, I really appreciate it…

Yes! I have seen Equilibrium (actually saw it first when it opened here in St. Louis at one theatre for all of two weeks) and loved it. The only comparison I can really think of between the two is the common ground of using “religious” figures for some sort of enforcement, after that, they’re two different things. Of course it’s been awhile since I’ve seen Equilibrium, so there might be more, but that’s the only thing that I have right off the top of my head.

If you do see Priest, I hope you have a good time with it.

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