Priest (2011) – Review

pVampires have existed alongside humanity since the dawn of time – a separate, nocturnal race of predators, building vast hives in service of their queen. For millenia, mankind has waged war against the vampire menace, and now, for the first time in history, there is peace.

Vampires exist only in reservations and will never emerge to menace us again. Priests – super-powered vampire slayers – have been forcibly retired. Humanity is safe and sound in vast cities protected by a benevolent ecclesiarchy that only limits freedom and does dystopic stuff for the good of the citizenry.

Obviously, everything is about to go horribly wrong. 

Paul Bettany plays a priest who goes back into the wasteland when vampires kidnap his niece. This is a dark fantasy Western set in the future with evils Catholics and egg-trains and super bikes and six-shooters and ninjas. I enjoyed it greatly.

“Western but with monsters” is always a fun aesthetic, and this film plays that absolutely straight. Everything is awesome and dramatic, with long flapping coats and wide-angle shots of desolation. Based on the animated intro, I assumed that the film was based on a comic, which turns out to be correct. If you are familiar with any dark fantasy comic ever made, then you will immediately understand the aesthetic.

The plot is complicated, albeit thin. A lot of stuff happens, and there are hints at a wider world, but nothing is explored in much detail, and the narrative wraps up before it should. The running time is just below an hour and a half, but it feels shorter than that.

The acting is not stellar – Paul Bettany over-acts quite a lot, and he’s normally better than that. That’s okay though, because this is a film you watch for the action, not the character development. There’s lots of action – lots of jumping and punching and being kicked backwards off a train or pulling out a strange and elaborate weapon to destroy and enemy before posing dramatically. It’s fun.

There are hints of depth to the narrative – depth that doesn’t really belong in such a film, even as little-developed as it is here. The oppressive religion is very clearly a version of Catholicism, which is more specific than you normally get with dystopic churches, and the film tries to make a point about freedom and faith. Similarly, there are echoes of colonialism in the treatment of the vampires – we are asked to question how we treat them, though that is immediately followed by them being mindless monsters. I appreciated the effort put in to having themes and messages, but they aren’t detailed enough to come off.

Overall, this is an entertaining film with lots going on. It’s not particularly great, but it’s very watchable.

Buy it here.

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