Priest (2011) — Pretty much Judge Dredd with vampires

“In this time of need, strengthen me. You are my refuge and strength. I do not fear, for You are with me.”

Justin’s rating: It’s scifi fangsgiving!

Justin’s review: Man, I love me a good genre mash-up. Throw together two, three, or four odd cinematic bedfellows, and it can take the ordinary and upgrade it to “darned interesting.” So if you tell me that there’s this movie that’s part western post-apocalyptic journey, part vampire horror, and part cyberpunk action fest, then I will happily scoot my butt down to the first seat in the first row of that movie theater before you finish the sentence.

This is Priest, a somewhat overlooked gem from 2011 that stars Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Lily Collins, Maggie Q, and Christopher Plummer. That’s right, it’s a Plummer Joint™!

In an alternate world, we’ve been fighting the Vampire Wars for centuries. A really nifty animated opening sequence shares how humanity turned the tide by creating a church-backed fighting force called Priests that pushed the vampires to the brink of extinction (but not over). After the Wars, the Priests — including Bettany’s character — are disbanded and thrown back into a theocratic cyberpunk megacity that’s like what you’d get if the Vatican saw Blade Runner and 1984 and then thought it would get into urban design for some reason.

When his niece Lucy is kidnapped by free roaming vamps, Priest goes against the orders of the church to go on a rescue mission into the vast wasteland frontier. He’s got the vamps on one side — led by a former member of his order — and a band of priests tracking him on the other. Thank goodness he’s got a few scrappy allies on his side and the most radical techno-motorcycle you’ve ever seen.

That is, seen since Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd. So much of Priest echoes Judge Dredd beat for beat — eerily so, at times — yet this flick manages to be more stylish and less cartoonish. Both are comic book adaptions with devoted cult bases and could be the subject of a fascinating compare-and-contrast academic thesis that I’m not going to write.

What I will say is that Priest doesn’t have time to fart around, as it clocks in under an hour-and-a-half (the ideal time for any movie, in my opinion). The plot is barebones as a result — it’s really just a chase film — but the worldbuilding more than makes up for it. We get glimpses of the megacity, the western frontier life, the vampire camps, and even a ride on a runaway train.

And while vampires are about the least interesting entry in the horror bestiary, at least in my opinion, at least Priest makes them look like a wicked offshoot of the xenomorph rather than a GQ model who didn’t get enough sun.

Perhaps the PG-13 middle-ground forced too much compromise here, especially with the overly fast and oddly bloodless scenes, yet Priest does horror and action well enough to not be penalized too much for this.

What I will strike against it is the rather rote performances by the entire cast, who go through the predictable plot points without leaving much of an impression on the narrative or audience. I’m also more than a little tired of these far-too-perfect fighters who pull off impossible moves and never seem to work for their dinner.

This is the sort of flick you pick because you like a little mindless action mixed in with a mish-mash of unusual setting, but nothing more.

Didja notice?

  • I love how the studio title logo smashes right into the opening scene
  • The awesome animated expository scene (done for budgetary reasons, apparently)
  • That bike goes really fast… when you’ve got absolutely no turns or obstacles
  • Hey it’s a Brad Dourif cameo!

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