Once thing can be said for the movie Priest. It is 100-percent free of sparkly vampires. Seriously. Unless they’ve been rolled in glitter, vampires shouldn’t sparkle.
The vampires in Priest resemble naked mole rats. Which, for a sun-hating, subterranean species, isn’t a bad bit of creature design. In humans–the vampire familiars–vampirism causes a particularly virulent case of male pattern baldness. So fans of pretty boy vamps should look elsewhere.
The premise of Priest is simple and flawed. Humans and vampires have been fighting each other since time immortal. Before the advent of modern human weaponry, vampires were faster and stronger. The only thing humans had on their side was the sun. Which begs the question, why didn’t vampires wipe humans out before the inception of modern technology? Did we outbreed the vamps? Anyway, the opening animated narrative tells us that the war escalated with both sides wrecking havoc on the environment. Mmm, both sides, my ass. I’m sure most of the destruction was human caused, given that the vamps’ only technology is the ability to build huge termite mounds. (With the aid of “secretions.” Insert discussion between my husband and I as to where the stuff is secreted from.)
Along comes the Catholic church, which saves the day with specially trained Priests, who rather than molesting children, slay vampires. The priests win the war and the remaining vampires are packed away on reservations.
Reservations? Really? Because when I hear reservation, I get this whole Trail of Tears thing in my head; a sad parade of vampire women and children being marched across the land. Probably not the best word to use if you don’t want to induce sympathy for the vampires.
Vampires safely ensconced in their ghettos, the priest are forcibly retired. Life for a retired priest is rather dreary, but then so is everyone else’s. The city is a dark and miserable world, ruled by the theocracy with the expected emphasis on “everything is a sin.” When word reaches Priest (Paul Bettany) that his brother, sister-in-law, and niece have been attacked by vampires, he comes out of retirement, and heads out into the frontier to rescue his niece. (Who really isn’t his niece. You can see this plot twist coming for miles.) The Church isn’t happy with Priest because they want to preserve the myth that the vampires are under control. So they send a hit squad of other priests out to stop Priest (yeah, that’s his name, Priest). Hit squad is immediately killed by the villain.
The villain, Black Hat (Karl Urban)–this isn’t really a spoiler, it’s so obvious–is a former priest that Priest failed to save from the clutches of the vamps years earlier. The vampire queen–pulled out of the movie’s ass about 2/3 of the way through– has turned this priest into a “human vampire.” Basically, this means he got to keep his hair and cute looks. I guess the queen got tired of looking at her army of naked mole rats and Yul Brenner lookalikes. Black Hat is leading the vampire army–their conveyance, a train.
On learning that the train is headed for the city, Priest tells Priestess (the only remaining member of the hit squad and now the love interest), that “Without us, everyone will be killed.” My reaction: “Really? You’re that bad ass? Just you, by your lonesome, can kill the entire army?” Also, given that the city, thanks to the Church, is a dark, oppressive slice of hell, death by vampire is a small mercy. Anyway, it’s up to our hero to stop the train and save the day. The ending to Priest comes so abruptly, it reeks of sequel bait.
I’m not one to blather about originality in movies or books. There are no new stories, folks. Certain tales resonate with the human psyche and are revisited time and time again. But if Priest were a building, one could call it “green” for its extensive reuse of other movies’ elements. “Clint Eastwood called,” I said, on the first sight of Black Hat, “He wants his hat, scowl and raspy voice back.” “The Lord of the Rings called,” said my husband, minutes later, regarding the scenery. “They want the Argonath back.”
Even Priest’s character is a rehash of Michael from Legion, also played by Paul Bettany.
I didn’t hate this as much as most critics. Hurray for low expectations! But given the acting capital on hand –Bettany, Urban — and interesting ideas within–religious oppression and Church corruption–it’s a pity Priest is such a stinker.