There was a time when a post-apocalyptic Western adapted from a series of Korean graphic novels about a vampire-hunting killer priest might have possessed some small element of novelty, especially if it was projected in the once-anachronistic medium of 3-D. Such a film might have seemed a tad offbeat, if not outright quirky. Our culture increasingly resembles a 3-D hybridization machine, however, so Priest now feels more like standard-issue popcorn fare than a crazy cult classic in the making. It’s all Pride And Prejudice And Zombies these days. The geeks have taken over, and the icy, achingly inessential Priest suggests that isn’t inherently a positive development.
In a performance more physical than psychological, Paul Bettany stars as the title character, a religious warrior who leaves the priesthood and his gated city to travel into the wild and track down a rogue aggregation of vampires who blithely disregard the law against killing human beings. The perpetually ridiculous Cam Gigandet, truly the Troy Donahue of our time, co-stars as an Old West-style lawman who joins Bettany in his hunt to track down the mysterious figure (Karl Urban) who kidnapped Bettany’s daughter.
Bettany’s performance consists entirely of a purposeful frown paired with a menacing glare: He goes about his godly business with solemn, no-frills intensity. The film follows suit. The only actor who seems to appreciate the inherent ridiculousness of a post-apocalyptic 3-D Western about a killer priest is Urban, who has a wonderful moment where his minions destroy a town in the background while he flutters his hands dramatically as if conducting the mayhem himself. During that moment, the film realizes its potential as B-movie Grand Guignol camp. Otherwise, Priest takes itself way too seriously. At least it deserves credit for efficiency: It doesn’t waste time with subplots or convoluted mythology. The simplistic directness of its storytelling is refreshing. It’s as if the filmmakers realize they’re wasting everyone’s time, so they at least want to take up as little of it as possible.