Priest 3D. Starring Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q and Christopher Plummer. Directed by Scott Stewart. 88 minutes. Rated M (Horror violence and infrequent coarse language).
No, not another film exploring the Catholic priesthood and celibacy. Rather, this is another graphic novel (from a Korean author) showing the struggle between good and evil.
Actually, there is an amount of Catholic background and iconography in the film. However, it simply means that the makers have some familiarity with things Catholic but are offering them as images and plot devices rather than indicating any understanding of the Church. This is explained quite early in what is a short film (under 90 minutes). During the credits, the screen is filled with effective, narrative graphic novel panels which means that we are not to be taking anything literally. This is an alternate world, a world of fantasy.
But, what is this world like?
It is dark, frequently dark. Daylight scenes in the desert come as something of a surprise and a relief. Vampires (looking like mutant monsters rather than variations on a well-dressed Dracula) have conquered the world and forced humans into retreat. However, the Church has nominated priests who are warriors to destroy the vampires and intern them in settlements. These priests, having achieved their task, are now retired and forgotten (like veterans returning home after some wars). Paul Bettany plays the central Priest, a former champion, who keeps dreaming of a trap where his colleague (Karl Urban) fell to his death. He communicates this to the Monsignor in charge. He is played by Christopher Plummer with full authority and resonant voice. The whole thing (and the city visuals) seem like a post-Blade Runner civilisation.
Then, we are in the desert, just like a western, and what seems like a variation on the plot of The Searchers. A young girl is abducted by marauding vampires, her parents killed. Her fiancé, a local sheriff (Cam Gigandet), goes to the Priest to get his help in tracking down the abducted girl. The Monsignor refuses permission for this mission but the Priest goes anyway (you can quickly work out why). Enter the Priestess (Maggie Q), sent to control the Priest but who assists him (with moves and leaps like The Matrix choreography) and causes a great deal of damage including charging an oncoming train (filled with vampire pods) on a motorbike.
It seems that the Priest’s partner did not die but has been vampirised – which, of course, leads to a spectacular confrontation, between the Priest and Black Hat, as his is now called.
Actually, Priest delivers exactly what it set out to do with an appeal only to its niche audience of graphic novel fans.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out 24th August 2011