Monday, April 4, 2011

Priest will have you praying for more

This genre-busting film, based on the graphic novel by Min-Woo Hyung, is set in an alternative world ravaged by centuries of war between man and vampires. The story revolves around a legendary Warrior Priest (Paul Bettany) from the last Vampire War who now lives in obscurity among the other downtrodden human inhabitants in walled-in dystopian cities ruled by the Church. When his niece (Lily Collins) is abducted by a murderous pack of vampires, Priest breaks his sacred vows to venture out on an obsessive quest to find her before they turn her into one of them. He is joined on his crusade by his niece’s boyfriend (Cam Gigandet), a trigger-fingered young wasteland sheriff, and a former Warrior Priestess (Maggie Q) who possesses otherworldly fighting skills.

Before you roll your eyes about "sparkly vampires" (Which Cam himself did plenty of times, both at the preview screening and at the interview tables), these are not that. The vampires of Priest are incredibly creepy monsters that look like slimy alien panthers without eyes, not charming Transylvanians wearing capes or pale dreamy boyfriends. They're fast and nimble animals who, when they bite a human, create servant "familiars" that are much more like the traditional twisted vampires of Nosferatu. The masters and servants are supposedly relegated to "reservations" after the end of the Vampire War, but obviously all is not well when some manage to escape and kidnap Priest's niece Lucy.

The world is both futuristic and retro, with elements of Bladerunner and classic westerns merged seamlessly into something new. There are martial arts battles with bikers, a chase and fight scene on top of a strange behemoth of a train as it races through the endless desert, vampire hunts through a labyrinthine concrete bunker, and scenes of loyalty and betrayal inside the massive Church.

The 3D conversion was seamless, and it does add an extra element without being distracting, but it wasn't entirely necessary for this film. For those familiar with Legion, Priest has approximately three times the budget of director Scott Stewart's earlier effort, and you can definitely see the money and directorial experience on the screen. This is one intense thrill ride with a different take on vampires that we haven't seen before. Add in heart-stopping martial arts fight sequences and the gritty eye-candy of the world all this takes place in, and you've got a movie that will be talked about all summer and beyond. Opens in theaters on (ironically) Friday the 13th of May.

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