‘Priest’ (2011) review: Who knew religion and vampires wouldn’t mix?

‘Priest’ tries to do too much, misses the mark

You would think, with Paul Bettany eviscerating some nightmarishly heinous vampires and Maggie Q wearing skintight vestments and brandishing a deadly whip, “Priest” would have been a bloody good adventure. Instead, we’re saddled with a “Searchers” rip-off set in some neo-Gothic, post-apocalyptic desert world where the Church reigns supreme (except when it doesn’t), humans are cloistered into dystopian, ever-night cities (as a chained form of protection) and vampires are placed on reservations and left to rot (except when they escape and create an army). And the one beacon of light, the Priests, superhuman vampire-slaying machines said to act as the hand of God, are stripped of any real character and emotion, leaving us to wonder just how so many things can go so wrong all at once.

“Priest,” directed by Scott Charles Stewart (“Legion”) and based on the graphic novel series of the same name, takes place after a massive war between humans and vampires has left the planet desolated and barren. For uncountable years, humans and vampires have been locked in a stalemate, with vampires having the upper hand physically, but with humans having the power of the sun. However, humans soon come into possession of a secret weapon: Priests, warriors who possess otherworldly fighting skills, who use them in God’s name against the vampire menace. But with the Vampire War over, the Church relieves the fighters of their titles and authority, both fearing them and wanting them to reintegrate into society.

The main plot then begins, with a vampire group attacking a wasteland outpost and kidnapping the young daughter who resides there, who ends up being the niece (noticing “The Searchers” references yet?) of the titular character, Priest (Paul Bettany, “Legion”). Upon learning of her disappearance from her gun-wielding sheriff boyfriend, Hicks (Cam Gigandet, “Pandorum”), Priest breaks his sacred vow to the Church (“To go against the church is to go against God”) and embarks on a quest to find her. Hicks, and his sharp-shooting skills, tag along.

However, in breaking his vows, Priest has angered the Church (which insists there is no vampire menace in order to keep the peace) to the point that it sends a platoon of other Priests after him, including Priestess (Maggie Q, “Mission Impossible III). But vampire attacks, surprise revelations and lots of explosions get in everybody’s way.

But with all the graphic, bloody violence that permeates the action-packed scenes (plus side: this movie has stunning animation), you can’t help but feel both overwhelmed and understimulated. Whatever sources Stewart was pulling from during the movie’s filming (and there were many), he failed to merge them in any viable way. You’re trying so hard to keep up you eventually give up. And without having any knowledge about the comic it’s based on, you’re left even more in the dark. (And in this movie, the dark is not your friend.)

And on the flip side, with an 87-minute runtime, “Priest” is devoid of any and all character and plot development, leaving you apathetic to the plight of the warriors. Somehow, “Priest” is both too long and too short.

All in all, despite being closer to “Daybreakers” than “Twilight,” “Priest” is sadly the next installment in the ever-increasing ranks of shoddy vampire movies being released in droves. For all that it could have been, “Priest” just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Two bloodless stars out of five.

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