Priest Blu-ray Review

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Paul Brian McCoy
Director: Scott Charles Stewart
Writers: Cory Goodman (based on the graphic novel series by Min-Woo Hyung
Starring: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Christopher Plummer, and Karl Urban

PRIEST, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, is set in an alternate world -- one ravaged by centuries of war between man and vampires. The story revolves around a legendary Warrior Priest from the last Vampire War who now lives in obscurity among the other downtrodden human inhabitants in walled-in dystopian cities ruled by the Church. When his niece is abducted by a murderous pack of vampires, Priest breaks his sacred vows to venture out on a quest to find her before they turn her into one of them. He is joined on his crusade by his niece's boyfriend, a trigger-fingered young wasteland sheriff, and a former Warrior Priestess who possesses otherworldly fighting skills.

Blu-ray Unrated $35.99
Blu-ray Unrated 3D $45.99
DVD PG-13 $30.99

For a film that has a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 41 out of 100, I found this film to be a nicely entertaining post-apocalyptic action treat. Granted, I went into this knowing that the reviews were terrible and having not enjoyed the previous collaboration between director Scott Charles Stewart and lead actor Paul Bettany, Legion, so maybe my lowered expectations helped.

But I don't really think that's the case.

And while, yes, the film is derivative of many other sources, it blends those references together to make a unique and visually impressive new world.

There are visual hints of Blade Runner (Ridley Scott 1982) and 1984 (Michael Radford 1984), as well as a distinctly Judge Dredd feel to some elements. The plot is mixture of John Ford's 1956 classic The Searchers and your run-of-the-mill Hong Kong Wire-Fu action flick. The vampires are not your classic, romantic monsters. Instead, they take termites as their thematic inspiration, nesting in mountains of their own excretion and serving their queen.

Until Karl Urban shows up, anyway.

His character, "Black Hat" (that's the only name given), is the birth of the sexy vampire into this desolate wasteland.

Playing the John Wayne part is Paul Bettany, and instead of being a Civil War veteran he's a veteran of the Vampire War; one of the army of Priests who finally turned the tide against the onslaught of monsters and won the war. As in The Searchers, when our hero's niece (Lily Collins) is kidnapped by Vampires (Comanches), Priest goes in search of her, vowing to save her or kill her if she's infected (living as a Comanche).

Now the vampires are forced to live on reservations, under guard and served by willing Familiars. And with the Vampire Menace under control, the Priests were disbanded and reintegrated into society.

Unfortunately, that society is a walled-in, totalitarian nightmare run by an all-powerful alternate-reality version of the Catholic Church. Also unfortunately, Priests don't have many marketable skills during peacetime, so they've all been shunted off to the lowest levels of the new society.

Outside the walls of the city, free people live in frontier towns, struggling to survive in a devastated desert landscape. But they don't have the Church interfering in their lives, so there's that.

Because inside the walls it's all "To go against the church is to go against God" which, as you can probably guess, means Priest is going to have to go against the Church's orders to rescue his niece.

If all the other "tributes" to earlier, better films weren't enough for you in the first half of the film, the conclusion becomes a strange combination of Once Upon a Time in the West and Road Warrior, with a hint of Batman Begins thrown in for good measure.

And the creators were so sure of themselves that they didn't even subtly hint that there could be a sequel, they go all in and demand a sequel right in the closing moments of this film.

Unfortunately, this is a 60 million dollar film that barely made half of that back in the U.S. Thanks to a somewhat stronger foreign gross, the film ended up scoring 76.5 million worldwide. I'm sure DVD and Blu-ray sales will help soften the blow, but don't expect to see Priest 2: Priests anytime soon.

Your enjoyment of this film is going to be entirely dependent on your ability to disassociate the trappings of other films and just enjoy Priest for what it is. I was able to do that and found myself enjoying it just fine.

I wouldn't buy it and will probably never have the desire to watch it again, but it was worth the rental. And the level of development in Stewart as a director from the abysmal Legion is impressive in itself. So much so that I'm curious to see whichever John Ford film he tries to reimagine as an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic horrorshow next.

(Looks like it's an adaptation of City of Bones books by Cassandra Clare, called The Mortal Instruments starring Priest's Lily Collins - that could be interesting)

Really, it's the production design of this film that's the star. Well, that and Genndy Tartakovsky's animated opening sequence, which tells the history of the Vampire War.

In fact, I'd say this is worth a rental just to see that animation in HD and to marvel at the set and prop design. The visual quality of the blu-ray release is pretty darned high. Even though the colors are intentionally washed out to create that sense of "post-apocalyptic" desolation, the details still pop.

Everything is crisp and clear and the audio quality sounded just right on my cheapo speakers. Although, to be honest, the contrast between the dialogue and the action sequences was a little rough, leaving me struggling to turn the volume down at times as the explosions and fight sequences began.

I almost forgot to mention that this was based on the Korean comic Priest by Min-Woo Hyung who served as a creative consultant on the film. The Priest manwha runs 16 volumes (and is unfinished), taking place primarily in the Old West, but also telling a contemporary story and one during the Crusades.

At the time of the film's release, Min-Woo Hyung and Tokyopop were supposed to be working on a graphic novel prequel to the film called Priest Purgatory, focusing on the Vampire Wars and the characters from the film. However, with Tokyopop's collapse earlier this year, I don’t know if any of it saw the light of day, or if the original series will ever be finished and published in the States.

But that's a discussion for another time.

For now, I'd say if you like any of those films I've mentioned that Priest borrows from, and if you're tired of pretty vampires, then this is probably worth a rental. I'd give it a solid .

I just don't expect to remember much about it after a few days.

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot. He currently has little spare time, but in what there is he continues to work on his first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.

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