a review by Nalini Haynes
Priest (Paul Bettany) is a former warrior-priest who defended humanity against vampirical aliens until they were rounded up and forced into detention centres. Although most humans fear vampires, some want the immortality they offer. These humans become vassals and food for the vampires until, if they are ‘lucky’, they become traditional-style vampires. One such vampire, Black Hat, a former priest (Karl Urban), was taken and changed against his will. Now he seeks vengeance against Priest and, as a former friend, knows how best to lure Priest into the open to enact his vengeance. Black Hat kills Priest’s former lover and his brother and kidnaps Priest’s daughter. The daughter’s boyfriend seeks out Priest, hoping Priest will help in a search and rescue mission.
Later a priestess is sent to kill Priest but, having served together previously, she gives her loyalty to Priest not the Monseigneurs. This character seemed to have been introduced purely to be an obvious Hollywood-style love interest, as all the other priests were male, however the relationship wasn’t taken anywhere in this movie.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, IMDB cites this as being an alternate world, however my impression was that this was a far-flung future world after an alien invasion went awry. Perhaps I was paying too much attention to the visuals and not enough to the audio commentary that gave the background.
Most people live in a city ruled by a cadre of Monseigneurs. Early scenes reveal that the order of priests were the right arm of the Monseigneurs until the vampires were subjugated, then, fearing an uprising of this powerful warrior-class, the priests themselves were subjugated, forced into menial labour and shunned by society. In some key scenes the Monseigneurs sit in an arc on their high chairs, looking down from their podiums at key individuals. These scenes are clichés, as this scenario has played out so many times in so many movies, however clichés are clichés for a reason: they tell a truth. In a very short space of time in the first scene with the Monseigneurs, the viewer learns many things about life in the city: there is no separation of church and state, no separation of judiciary and legislature and policing. The Monseigneurs are all-powerful; to disobey them is to call down imminent execution upon oneself. The Monseigneurs are also afraid and are probably hiding something, although that will be revealed in a later movie if there are sequels. All the scenes with the Monseigneurs needed to make them perfect was the inclusion of Derek Jacobi, Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen along with some exploration of their history and motives.
The city scenes were Bladerunner-esque in their appearance, adding to the post-apocalyptic feel. The city was covered in heavy cloud, creating eternal night within the city walls. The reason for this is not apparent; I’m guessing it’s either pollution or something the Monseigneurs have done: they clearly have a hidden agenda. Outside of the city, the clouds suddenly end: it’s like going through a doorway from shade into sunlight, which supports my Monseigneur theory. Beyond the limits of the clouds, the countryside appears to be mostly salt-pan-white desert, creating blinding contrasts with the city and between day and night. The scenes in the countryside are heavily influenced by Mad Max and Westerns, with the cowboy culture riding around on motor bikes and seemingly scavenged vehicles. Visuals were remarkably stark and yet detailed throughout the movie. Close attention needs to be paid to every set prop as it appeared the minimalist style was intended to emphasise the importance of all imagery used.
The characters are engaging although I was disappointed that the Monseigneurs were so two-dimensional. The dialogue was crisp with occasional comments that were too austere and shocking for banter but had a similar effect. The backstory was delivered efficiently with a combination of comic-book style art blended with movie-storyboarding and imagery. Visuals were compelling. IMDB rated Priest as PG 13, which is an Aussie M rating. I enjoyed Priest very much, and so did the minion – we agreed we would watch it twice before I wrote this review, and I think we’ll watch it again soon. This is highly unusual for us. I strongly recommend Priest as an intelligent post-apocalyptic and vampire movie out of the usual flavour.