After last year's abysmal 'Legion' and now 'Priest,' it's starting to become fairly clear director Scott Stewart has a thing for the wild-west theme. In the former supernatural thriller, we see Paul Bettany cut off his wings and battle a legion of angels in an 'Alamo'-like conflict to save humanity. This time around, filmmakers repurpose John Ford's 'The Searchers' to have Bettany don a crucifix facial tattoo and battle a horde of animalistic vampires to save humanity. Or maybe Stewart just has a thing for reimagining John Wayne figures as Chuck Norris types caught in apocalyptic war zones. In either case, where's our Bettany to save humanity from watching this soulless garbage?
Not to be mistaken for a movie with subtlety — or any refined craftsmanship for that matter — 'Priest' opens with an animated prologue and an unknown narrator spilling the beans. The mysterious voice soon disappears after the credits — along with most of the best talent — but not before explaining that the plot takes place in an alternate human history where vampires run rampant and the Church has an industrialized, Orwellian rule over the last remaining humans. On one level, the segment reminds audiences they're watching a sci-fi fantasy flick based on a South Korean graphic novel series, and the uninspired dialogue and generic, second-rate drama which follows reveals the shoddiness of the production.
To be fair, the movie does come with some level of polish and a bit of panache, mostly by way of the dispirited, funereal photography of Don Burgess, who also worked on such features as 'Cast Away,' 'Enchanted,' and 'The Book of Eli,.' Then again, he was also involved with such disasters as 'Richie Rich,' 'Christmas with the Kranks' and 'My Super Ex-Girlfriend.' So maybe that isn't saying much either. Still, 'Priest' seems to have put most of its creative effort on its looks and design than on anything else. We even get a few shots reminiscent of an otherworldly Monument Valley just for good measure and a cool vampire villain in the conveniently-named Black Hat (Karl Urban), so it's a shame that the script from newcomer Cory Goodman doesn't quite measure up.
Bettany's unfortunate, phony performance as a poor-man's Man with No Name is matched with Cam Gigandet's even cheaper, confused portrayal of a sheriff far too young for his own britches. He's actually expected to utter lines like "I know the look a man gets when he likes killing" — or something to that ridiculous effect as if he's experienced in such matters — yet he acts like a wuss when it comes to some real fighting. Anyhow, while on the pursuit of the vampires who kidnapped Bettany's niece (Lily Collins), the two are later joined by Maggie Q as a lovelorn priest. And Bettany is inexplicably the object of her affection (that's not a spoiler as it's pretty obvious), a dramatic device so horribly tacked on that it sleazy cheapness sends more shivers down your spine than the monsters, which brings us to our next point.
In this new millennium, what has become of the mystique and seductiveness which once attracted us to vampires? It's all but nearly disappeared, if not completely ruined by a new generation of writers and fans. It is one thing to have frustrating melodramas like 'Twilight' and 'The Vampire Diaries' practically trash and castrate their appeal into impotent whiners. But here, 'Priest' proudly displays crazed, slobbering creatures of the night which require rabies shots just for looking at them. This makes the idea of familiars or anyone wanting to be turned into one of them utterly absurd. And to that extent, makes the movie as a whole into a preposterous, meager mess that's best soon forgotten and will hopefully not return from the dead as the open-ended conclusion promises.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment blesses Blu-ray with an exclusive unrated version of 'Priest.' The difference is a 90-second scene before the animated intro. Housed in a blue eco-vortex case, the Region Free, BD50 disc kicks things off with a Blu-ray promo and a series of skippable previews. Afterwards, we have the standard menu selection with music and full-motion clips.
'Priest' debuts on Blu-ray with a nicely-detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1) that stays true to the filmmaker's stylish cinematography.
The picture is deliberately washed out and drained of color to create an atmosphere of gloom and of living in a lifeless terrain. Although the transfer displays a steely-blue tint, with deep, dark shadows, primaries, mostly red, remain well-saturated and cleanly-rendered while facial complexions appear appropriate to the fictionalized arid climate. The over-exposure in the photography does little to ruin overall definition as distinct lines on the clothing of priests, the unusual architecture of the vampire hives and the interior of Black Hat's train car are plainly perceptible. The faces of actors, particularly in close-ups, reveal a great deal of lifelike texture and minor blemishes. Black levels are profound and intense though slightly exaggerated and obscuring background info somewhat during those sequences inside vampire lairs.
There's a bit of posterization and banding in a few scenes worth noting, but nothing to the extent of ruining the presentation. In the end, the video is satisfying and looks excellent on Blu-ray.
'Priest' also arrives with a highly-active DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, full of explosive action and vampire mayhem.
The rears are almost always employed with ambient effects like the sound of wind blowing or the random sounds of the walled-off city. Outside, in the desert townships, listeners continue to be immersed with the discrete clangs and rings of objects moving with the wind. Although these moments do provide a nice sense of envelopment, these atmospherics are easily localized and tend to draw attention to themselves by being overtly loud. This is made more apparent during sequences of action when the screen suddenly erupts into crazed fits of pandemonium. The soundfield is often deafening and takes a great deal away from the events in the front.
Dynamic range, however, doesn't falter or distort, providing much of that activity with strong clarity detail. Only, the upper frequencies seem rather earsplitting when listening at a reasonable volume. The low-end is aggressive and forceful, giving gunshots and explosion an authoritative presence. Dialogue is generally well delivered in the center, but there are times when conversations are difficult to make out or drowned out by activity in the rest of the lossless mix. The soundstage displays good channel separation, but again, directionality and movement fail to convince.
All things considered, this is not an awful high-rez track, but it's not entirely satisfying either.
The same set of special features can also be found on the movie's day-and-date DVD release.
From director Scott Stewart, 'Priest' is the forgettable sci-fi fantasy about an alternate human history filled with ravenous vampires and superhero priests. Paul Bettany stars in the convoluted, out-of-this-world reimagining of John Ford's 'The Searchers,' and the end product is a sadly misguided soul quest that runs as blindly rampant as the monstrous bloodsuckers it tries to portray. The Blu-ray, on the other hand, delivers a strong video and audio presentation, minus a few negligible quips. Combined supplements are entertaining and worth a watch for fans, but the overall package only makes for a good rental.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.