Continuing my series of essays about SFnal Movies Beginning with the Letter “P” Starring Actors Who Really Ought to Have Better Things To Do, I watched the movie Priest the other day, starring Paul Bettany.
This was a mistake.
The film is based on some sort of Korean graphic novel I have never heard of. Which means nothing. The list of things I have never heard of is vast, and no one cares about it. The list of people in the world who, in turn, have never heard of me or Avery Cates is also vast, and dwarfs most known quantities. Let it drift.
The basic idea is: In an alternate universe, vampires (which are freaky ugly monsters, not suave, good-looking European gentlemen or teenagers) have always fought humans. For centuries they battled, with the vampires slowly getting the upper hand despite the technology and 24-hour existence of the humans. When things looked most grim, the Church (which is, basically, the Catholic Church, invoking the old trope of All Christians are Catholic), somehow figures out how to train Priests, human killing machines specially trained to destroy vampires. While everyone else crowds into walled cities under the Church’s protection, the Priests go forth and kick ass, presumably with Jesus Power helping them along, and kick so much vampire ass the vampires surrender and are locked into reservations. The Priests are deemed too scary and are decommissioned and forced to take up normal lives, but because they are feared they struggle to assimilate back into society. The huge tattoo of the Cross on their faces might also have something to do with their shunning.
That’s back story. There is a plot, yes. It involves the main character seeking to avenge the death of his brother and rescue his daughter-in-law (or IS she?) from a former priest turned super special human hybrid vampire, and discovering a vampire uprising in the process.
That’s all you need to know about the plot. The real question is, does any of this work. The answer is, no.
The main problem I have with the film is that the whole priest/church part is completely superfluous. Sure, imagining a world where Roman Catholic Priests are trained as superhuman vampire killing machines is a cool idea, but that’s all it is, an idea. To make it into a universe, we need to see how this impacts things. How the religion has mutated, how the Church has incorporated vampirism into its teachings and beliefs. How the religious beliefs of the priests influence their personalities and personal struggles. Instead, it’s just used as the barest of a sketch, and then we have many many fight sequences where Paul Bettany kicks vampire ass.
If nothing else, since the vampires clearly have sentience, you might imagine the question of whether a vampire has a soul might come up, and that this question might be of interest to mean and women who believe in God and life after death and all that. The vampires, however, are treated as standard CGI-Orc beings, meaning it is sure as hell okay to murder them by the dozens, and to enjoy the spectacle of their slaughter. I don’t have any problems with this, per se, but if AlternatePriests don’t give a fuck about killing things that scream in pain as you kill them, then I would like to explore a bit about how they came to this frightening mindset.
In short, Priest is a shallow set up and then a very long fight sequence. If that’s your thing, enjoy.
One thing I would recommend: If the movie comes up for free on TV, watch the opening animated sequence. It’s fun, it summarizes the backstory efficiently, and is entertaining as heck. Then change the channel.