PRIEST Film Review

Holy unsatisfying

Release Date: OUT NOW!
12A * 88 Minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Director: Scott Stewart
Starring: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins

Paul Bettany has clearly ignored the old saying “once bitten, twice shy.” How else do you explain his agreeing to reunite with Legion director Scott Stewart after that apocalyptic angel thriller turned out to be a laughable mash of genre clichés and uninspiring cardboard characters?

But reunite he has, for another religious-flavoured action film that once again promises a lot and delivers very little. This time around, Priest is set in a dystopian alternate future where mankind has been at war with slavering, Xenomorph-alike vampire creatures for centuries. While the sun-hating beasts have been driven back thanks to ninja priests trained up by the all-powerful Church-run government, an attack on an isolated farmstead in the wastelands suggests that the toothy terrors are up to something. And One Man Must Go Against The Church’s Orders To Stop The New Threat.

Sorry… Got all trailer voice-y there. But that’s the problem with Priest: at a scant 88 minutes, there’s little room for anything but the most basic plot beats to play out. And though Stewart and writer Cory Goodman may have thought they were paying tribute to the Clint Eastwood style of gruff hero, they forgot to give anyone a proper character beyond the most basic stereotypes. So Bettany growls his way through as a sort of Catholic warrior monk, Maggie Q’s a kick-ass fellow cleric, Cam Gigandet is the heroic young sheriff and Karl Urban’s the Stock Bad Guy With A Plan in a story that’s about as nuanced as Team America: World Police. And that was supposed to be a spoof.

One or two scenes of Bettany and Q unleashing martial arts hell on the hordes of vampire critters are effective, but anyone who has seen the trailer has seen a good 80% of anything worth watching here. Which is a shame as Stewart clearly intended to make a badass slimline action thriller, but forgot to include anything particularly fresh. The idea of the industrialised church cities is pure Metropolis meets Gilliam (without the satire), the desert wastelands are Western tropes in the service of nothing in particular and the vamps are basic monsters.

At the big finish, there’s unsubtle groundwork laid for a sequel. Everyone start praying that doesn’t ever come to pass. James White