“Priest” seems to be a film that promises one thing and gives another. See, “Priest” is not about priests, per se. It’s actually more about vampires, but those aren’t the vampires we know either. Instead of their sparkly, attractive, book-turned-movie-that-must-not-be-named cousins, these vampires are eyeless, incredibly violent and excrete some kind of slime with which they build their dwellings. While filled with disappointingly unbloody thrills and lacking that little bit of extra “oomph” from practically nonexistent character development and a weak background, the film commands attention and anchors audiences to their seats.

Priest

Quality 16 and Rave
Screen Gems

Viewers will get sucked in quickly by a violent opening scene including the kidnapping of Lucy (Lily Collins, “The Blind Side”). Spurred into action by the kidnapping of his niece, a former warrior priest (Paul Bettany, “The Da Vinci Code”) who defeated the vampire menace of the past is once again called into action, not by the strange, futuristic otherworldly adaptation of the Catholic Church, but by the God he serves.

The film seems to take place on another planet — which happens to be beautifully represented — and portrays the Church as a corrupt hierarchy that is blind to the rise of the vampires. It tries a little too hard to make a statement about absolute power corrupting absolutely and how man-made institutions never work in the long run, making some of the lines describing the Church and the situations redundant and annoying. The Church is an exact remake of the Church on Earth, making viewers wonder why the writers weren’t more creative with the script. But what the film lacks in intelligence it makes up for in brute strength and action.

The fast pace of the movie and the obnoxious lines following approximately the structure of “If we do this, we’ll achieve that result,” keep audiences staring at the screen without needing to wonder what’s going on because it’s so clearly spelled out. Without the pitfall of an action movie that lacks a clear point, audiences are free to jump when the vampire swoops in from nowhere and to grip their seats when the characters seem about to die. These occurrences are deliciously predictable so even the most squeamish viewer will feel comfortable because of the ample warning of ensuing violence.

It’s relatively easy to diagram the characters: Lily Collins plays a damsel-in-distress with stale lines asking what her captors want from her. She’s pretty convincing, but it would have been nice to see her character developed a little bit more. Hicks (Cam Gigandet, “Burlesque”), her heartthrob, plays — sexily but dumbly — the role of Prince Charming with few acting chops. Or maybe his problem lies in the lines he’s given. Whatever his problem, his lines sound forced and, well, scripted. Priest is the dark, brooding one. Bettany plays this role well and convincingly. His nemesis is the black-hatted vampire/human in charge of the whole vampire resurgence, someone who is appropriately named Black Hat (Karl Urban, “Star Trek”). He’s probably the least important main character, but his role is the best-played and therefore, the most memorable. The other supporting characters add a little bit of extra action, but they mostly seem to be placeholders.

All in all, this is a solid film. It’s not that smart, but it’s well done from a cinematography standpoint and the effects are top-notch. With a little bit more attention paid to the script, this film could have emerged as a good all-around experience instead of a shoddily-scripted movie about vampires and priests.

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