Priest (2011): The Searchers for the Apocalypse

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I tried to watch Priest once before. At that time, I just couldn’t get into the film. For whatever reason, it just didn’t click. I honestly could not tell you why. Either my bio-rhythms were off or the fact that Carl Urban appeared to bite the “big-one” at the start of the film or a combination of the two, put me off the film.

When I saw a copy of Priest going for 3 pounds at the bargain DVD section at Tesco, I picked it up. I figured that for 3 quid, I’d give it another go. I’m actually glad I did. Because despite the film’s Korean graphic novel beginnings, it really turned out to be a western. And not just any western either, it was The Searchers revisited; sans Natalie Wood, Jeff Hunter and The Duke.

The Creators:

Directed by Scott Stewart  with a screenplay written by Cory Goodman and based on Min-Woo Hyung‘s graphic novel of the same name, Priest really is an almost perfect western movie. I know, I know; some purists out there are going to scream to high heaven about not being faithful to the “original” concept. Which seems to be the clarion call of all “fan’s” of work adapted from a “manga-type” source.

But, I don’t care. In case the folks in the cheap seats missed that, I’ll repeat; I don’t care. Because I’ve never read the original graphic novel and apart from seeing the cover of it in a comic store downtown, I would have never known of its existence if it were not for IMDb and Wikipedia.

The ever-beautiful and kick-ass Maggie Q.
The ever-beautiful and kick-ass Maggie Q.

The Plot:

It is a future version of a world torn apart by war. The church has become all-powerful and in this verse, vampires have existed since the dawn of time. These are not the suave and sophisticated vamps of literature and film. These vampires are animalistic and more of a “hive” insect with a queen who’s lays vampire “eggs.” A legion of Priests were created by the church to battle the vampires and in a long epic battle they were defeated and the remaining creatures were put in “reservations.” (Sound familiar?)

The Priests are disbanded and forgotten. Years later, in an outpost in the Wasted Lands, a farmer along with his wife and daughter are breaking their backs trying to make a living out of the desert soil. As they sit down to their evening meal, they are attacked by a horde of vampires and the daughter hides in the basement only to be discovered by something.

The Cast:

Paul Bettany
Karl Urban
Cam Gigandet
Maggie Q
Lily Collins

*Cast courtesy of IMDb.*

The Device:

Just like today, you cannot trust the guys in charge and refusing to give up is good.

The Twist:

Family is in the eye of the beholder.

The Story:

After a long protracted battle between vampires and men, the men win and put the surviving vampires in “reservations.” It turns out that they’ve been pretty damned busy down there and when an outbreak occurs the leaders of the church refuse to believe that there is a problem. One priest (Paul Bettany), whose family it was that got attacked by this upsurge of vamps, goes against the church and decides to rescue his niece Lucy (Lily Collins). He is aided by the local lawman, Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet) and a fellow Priestess (Maggie Q).

Carl Urban as Black Hat all that's missing is the serape.
Karl Urban as Black Hat all that’s missing is the serape.

It turns out that the renegade vampires are being led by a former Priest, Black Hat (Karl Urban) who was lost to the vampires at the beginning of the film. He’s kidnapped Lucy to draw the Priest to him.

The Characters:

Paul Bettany as the Priest is all guttural angst and stoic grimness. He pretty much feels like Ethan in The Searchers but without the great lines that The Duke had in his film. Karl Urban as Black Hat is just, well, Karl Urban; there is not part that I’ve ever seen the man portray that doesn’t enthral me. Despite his tiny amount of screen time, when he is on-screen he blows everyone else away. Lily Collins, who was a relative newcomer when this film was made, did a brilliant job and even when she had snot running down her lower lip; still looked amazing.

As did Maggie Q as the kick-ass Priestess who helps Bettany track down all the bad vampires. Cam Gigandet’s sheriff was good at filling the Jeffrey Hunter role as the young guy who wants to make sure that girlfriend Lucy survives her reunion with her Uncle Priest.  And in the cameo department,  Brad Dourif was brilliant as the Snake Oil salesman who is touting the effectiveness of his “holy water.” And  Christopher Plummer  was great as the treacherous and “holier-than-thou” head of the church who banishes the Priest for even daring to presume that vampires have again become a threat.

The Verdict:

Despite the dismal reviews that this film garnered, I liked it. The second I made the  western connection, I was on-board and enjoying the show. The sets combined with the shooting locations and the CGI all made for a believable western-type apocalyptic arena for these “cowboys and indians” to do battle.

It’s pretty obvious that the creators of the film, loved western movies. The sets and the “frontier” towns would not have looked out-of-place in a Leone Spaghetti western. This combined with the epic scenery throughout the film made it look like The Searchers married to Once Upon a Time in the West.

A real 4 star out of 5 for me, just because of the loving “homage” to a great western that did not follow the original too closely and left things open for a sequel which, sadly, will probably not happen due to the poor performance at the box-office.

If you like/love westerns you’ll probably enjoy this film.

Bettany "searching" on the back of his "steed."
Bettany “searching” on the back of his “steed.”