Length: 87 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Age Appropriate for: 13+; the violence and monsters are laughably created with CGI, so nothing seems even remotely real.
I dare Hollywood to release a worse movie this year than ‘Priest.’ I dare you! (Please don’t take me up on it.)
By Roxana Hadadi
When I saw “Rubber,” I thought I had for sure seen the worst movie of 2011 so far. I hate admitting that I’m wrong, but after seeing “Priest,” I have to. Zero kernels out of five? Yeah, that rating just happened.
“Priest” wasn’t screened for critics before its release, so I knew I was in for badness — but this bad? I had no idea. Terrible acting, awful scriptwriting, unbelievable plot developments, cinematography and themes jacked from numerous other movies, plus a nearly 90-minute runtime. Ninety minutes doesn’t seem that long, right? That’s only an hour and a half, which is like the length of one college class. The worst. College class. Ever.
The film is based on the Korean comic book series “Priest” by Hyung Min-woo, released from 1998 to 2007; “Priest” is suspiciously close to the wonderful Vertigo comic “Preacher” by Garth Ennis, which was released from 1995 to 2000. The two share a formerly religious protagonist fallen from grace, vampires as bad guys and a dark, supernatural theme, but “Preacher” deeply delved into discussions about religion and fate, while “Priest” is more of a slash-and-burn kind of thing. Everything “Preacher” does well, “Priest” does terribly, and that awfulness is reflected in the film directed by Scott Stewart and starring Paul Bettany.
Bettany used to be a good actor once — solid in “A Knight’s Tale” and “A Beautiful Mind” — but since then he’s just starred in second-tier action films like “Inkheart” and “Legion.” He sinks to new lows here among the ridiculously poor acting and distractingly bad 3-D. If you pay to see this movie, and then pay extra for the 3-D, I truly pity you.
The film takes place in a dystopian, torn-apart future where a war between humans and vampires has crippled the planet. There’s “always been man, always been vampires,” an exceedingly bloody animated intro informs audiences, but the fight fully came to a head in the 21st century, causing the Church (like an updated, more evil Roman Catholic institution) to step in. Led by Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer), the Church trained a super-powerful group of religious warriors called Priests to fight the vampires; once they succeeded in containing the threat, the Priests were forced to assimilate back into society in grubby jobs and vampires were sent to live in contained facilities in the barren west. Humans retreated back into walled cities, where huge screens dictate the Church’s totalitarian sayings — “Absolution is the only way” seems to be one of its favorite sayings — and everyone has deluded themselves into thinking vampires have fully disappeared.
But they’re still out there, still ripping humans apart, and ignite the fury of Priest (Bettany) — no first or last names are given for the warriors, to add to their mystique, I guess — when they kidnap his niece, Lucy (Lily Collins). Enraged that the monsignors refuse to acknowledge the existence of vampires, Priest abandons his faith and strikes out on his own, joined by Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet), who is in love with Lucy. Together on their motorbikes they travel to the abandoned frontier, hoping to find Lucy before the vampires bite her and turn her into a familiar, a kind of slave who only live to do their sire’s bidding.
Does “Priest” add anything to our-vampire saturated pop culture? Not really. They’re not cuddly vegetarians like Edward from “Twilight,” seriously dramatic like Dracula or smolderingly conflicted like Angel or Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but that’s because they’re just boring demons, with claws and fangs but lacking eyes.
Aside from that yawn-fest when it comes to the vampires’ backstory and description, the film is forgettable in every other way, too. The narration is faux old-world and stilted (“They alone turned the tide,” the introduction claims regarding the Priests); the regular dialogue is impressively expected and terrible (“We all have to make sacrifices,” says a guy about to lose a family member; “To go against the Church is to go against God,” commands a monsignor); and every supposedly significant scene is laughable. Priest breaks his rosary before fighting off Church lackeys trying to arrest him! Priest and Priestess (Maggie Q) touch hands but don’t kiss, showing their deep unconsummated love! Yawn.
There’s no good acting here, so let’s not even discuss that. There also aren’t any original thoughts, since nearly everything from “Priest” is swiped from another movie: the dilapidated cities from “Blade Runner,” the totalitarianism from “Equilibrium,” the slow motion action scenes from “The Matrix,” the vampires merely copies of the Pale Man from “Pan’s Labyrinth,” that part in “The Dark Knight” where the Joker cues anarchy in the streets like an orchestra conductor. “Priest,” rated PG-13, is shot dark and gritty like the comic book adaptation of “Jonah Hex,” and should be OK for teens 13 and older. Since the vampires are created purely with CGI, they never look seriously real. There are some thrills when they attack humans, but the familiars may be grosser for viewers: Bald, with stark white skin, rotting teeth and nasty nails, they’re sniveling slaves who decapitate chickens and drink their blood. There’s also hammers to the head, slashed throats and other bloody — but not gory — violence between the humans and monsters.
If only someone had massacred “Priest” before it got made into a movie. Who cares about vampires? Terrible films are a more pressing concern for our society, and “Priest” is a prime example of everything wrong with Hollywood. Zero kernels out of five, people. Zero kernels out of five.