An experimental government program sends soldier Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) back in time, where he wakes up in the body of a commuter who witnesses a train bombing. Presented with just 8 minutes to figure out who is responsible, his mission is further complicated by his feelings for a fellow passenger (Monaghan).
The appeal of a futuristic vampire slayer film is understandably graphic. By paying admission for one, you are promised rivers of blood and a symphony of retaliatory hissing.
Scott Charles Stewart’s adaptation of Hyung Min-woo’s Korean comic book is a bleak and macabre Western/horror hybrid that feels less like a movie on its own and more like a set-up for an upcoming saga.
As the sallow-cheeked hero Priest (Paul Bettany, in basically the same performance he turned in five years ago for Silas in “The Da Vinci Code”) staggers offscreen after the climactic bloodshed, he utters, “It’s not over. Not for me.” Even the movie’s tagline boasts, “His Mission is Just the Beginning.”
Normally, this is the kind of cliffhanger news that would excite fans of the original manhwa. But these devoted readers should be warned that this is only a loose adaptation of Min-woo’s source material. The tone and style of the movie pay homage to his fusion of supernatural horror and gunslinger Western genres. And Don Burgess’ sharp cinematography contrasting bright light against dark shadow complements Min-woo’s angular art style. But there is no Ivan Isaacs, no Temozarela, no Domas Porada.
Instead, this is a typical Human-versus-Vampire adventure featuring a tight-lipped hero in a dystopian society. Bettany portrays Priest with marble-faced stolidity. It never feels like he’s actually speaking to the other characters. It’s more like he’s grunting in their general direction.
But the theatrically trained Bettany is perfect in this kind of role. His face has a hardened intensity that is glorious for graphic novel adaptation. Even though director Stewart has likened the title character to John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers”, the Priest more closely resembles Clint Eastwood’s Man-With-No-Name in Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns.
Priest is a certified Jedi-Knight when it comes to disposing his undead opponents. But as his somewhat faithful sidekick Hicks (Cam Gigandet) can testify, the man is short on conversation, which is a remarkable characteristic for a man of the Cloth.
Maybe that’s because there’s nothing much to say in this post-apocalyptic premise. With an entertaining opening animated sequence detailing the history of Man Against Vampire, we are told that this supernatural war has extended for centuries. As is the regular case with war, neither side appears to be winning. The Vampires have brutal strength and animalistic capabilities. The Humans have the Sun and a legion of warrior guardians, known as the Priests.
What started this centuries-old conflict, you ask? Don’t worry about it. The two races simply cannot coexist. Who needs motivation when you have bloodthirsty vampires? The humans want to survive in peaceful seclusion. The vampires want to convert them into their own society.
When his own niece, Lucy (Lily Collins), is kidnapped by a group of vampires, Priest disobeys his Monsignor’s orders to remain passive and takes the renegade route. By watching his effortless skill in battling these foes, it seems like he can get her back single-handedly. But along comes Hicks, Lucy’s boyfriend, to add idealistic and romantic perspective to the rescue.
Even though his character is played with over-the-top bravado by Gigandet, Hicks’ mission adds the most engaging dynamic to the story. He not only yearns to help Priest save Lucy from her nocturnal captives, but to keep him from exterminating her too should she become infected.
Maggie Q, who plays the Warrior Priestess, assists their party even further. The inclusion of her character might actually seem excessive would it not be for the fact that she has the best kill in the whole movie. As the theater digests the visual spectacle of her victory, an audience member behind me whispered, “Fatality,” with perfect Mortal Kombat conviction.
This is one of those movies where it’s best to be surrounded by comic book nerds and video game enthusiasts in order to celebrate the ridiculous aspects of the ensuing violence. The only problem is that if you did not see “Priest” this weekend, then you probably already missed your opportunity.
“Priest” is by no means a bad movie. It delivers what it sells: a violent battle between an expert warrior and an army of monsters. The problem is that this simplistic formula has been done so many times lately that it quickly becomes tiresome without many motivating plot twists.
Yes, there are a couple of surprises that are exposed in the second half of the movie. The effect is largely ho-hum. It is hard to care much for these characters since they are so removed from recognizable human interaction. The Priest and Priestess may be noble warriors in this deserted wasteland, but we don’t feel much connection to their personal set of core values.
They have sacrificed their human elements in place of religion. And as a result, their impulses and reactions are restrained from one another, and from the audience as well.