Retro Review : Priest (2011)

Retro Review : Priest (2011)

Take the vampire mythos and set it in a futuristic western, what your left with is the entertaining Priest!

Every so often, I pop into my local Poundland and peruse their cheap selection of Blu-rays, which are only £2 a pop.

On one of my recent visits, I came across a copy of Priest. I only had the vaguest of memories watching it once before, possibly it was the original cinema viewing.

However, what swayed me to purchase the film, apart from the ridiculous price, was a healthy selection of extras and its main stars, Paul Bettany and Karl Urban.

Priest is set in an alternate timeline where humanities war against vampires has been waging for hundreds of years. This is all told via a very well animated introduction sequence.

The story of our film is set in an undisclosed future, where humanity is on the brink of extinction but is believed to have wiped out the vampire menace once and for all several years earlier.

The war against the vampires was fought by the Priests, specially trained by the church from a young age, they acquire an amazing set of skills and are given unique weaponry.

But once the war was over, there were no need for the Priests, they were disbanded and discarded having believed that had outlived their usefulness.

The bulk of humanity now lives in huge walled cities that are overseen and run by the church, much like a huge and oppressive corporation that oversees everything.

Those who don’t believe in the word of God are seemingly forced to live outside these cities in the desert wastelands.

Preist (Paul Bettany) amongst the citizens of the church run city of the future.

As the film begins, a lone family trying to make their way in the world outside the city is overrun and attacked by a group of vampires, the daughter is taken captive.

A local sheriff visits the walled city on order to talk to one of the Priests whose brother’s family was attacked. He immediately sets out to help.

The Priest visits the church in order to regain his authority in order to carry out this mission, but he is refused the permission. If he travels outside the city walls, it will be the breaking of his vows.

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Ignoring the warnings, Priest makes his way to the barren wastelands in order to battle the vampires and hopefully rescue his family with the sheriff along for the ride.

First off, Priest looks absolutely fantastic throughout the film and I really love its visual style. This is for all intents and purposes a western set in the future mixed with a huge dose of industrialism and of course the vampires added for good measure.

The walled city where humanity barely survives is certainly grim with huge lit neon signs of the church reminding you that they’re in control. It’s a bleaker version of the future cities of Bladerunner with the walled city surrounded by a desolate wasteland giving off some strong 1995 Judge Dredd vibes.

The wild west styled towns of the wasteland look very in character with all their added steelwork, pipes and yet more industrialism.

The horses have been replaced by battery powered jet bikes which look great as they speed through the flat desert wastelands. Even the traditional western steam train heist is here which still runs on rails but with a modern, faster upgrade.

The vampires of this film are not the suave sharply dressed men in suits, here in this alternate timeline they are eyeless creatures that are fast and deadly.

The vampires in this film, despite being eyeless, are fast and deadly!

Bought to life with digital imagery in this 2011 film, I was honestly expecting something a little hokey in places, but I believe it has stood the test of time rather well. The CGI work is no doubt helped by the fact that these creatures are only ever shown at night or in the dark.

After watching the bonus material on the disc, I was surprised to discover that there were more elements that were created with CGI in this film that I wasn’t even aware of!

The Priest himself is played by Paul Bettany, who as of writing, was most recently seen on Disney+ in the first Marvel television series Wandavision.

With a stylistic cross tattooed upon his forehead, this is no normal Priest. Whenever he talks it’s usually to the point and in a whispered tone. For someone whose life is based on religion, he’s quite a badass! Watching Priest dispatch the vampires, usually with such ease, it’s a joy to watch, especially when he uses his religious themed weaponry.

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Karl Urban is Priest’s nemesis and looks the part and reminds me a lot of his performance from his later film Dredd with his gruff voice and nearly always stylistically hiding in the shadows.

It’s a shame that there’s not nearly enough of him in the final film and even his final moments aren’t entirely conclusive.

Black Hat (Karl Urban) is about to get his revenge.

For the majority of the film, Priests companion is the sheriff who is really the audience’s entry into this world. It’s through him, we learn about the vampires and this alternate world we’re seeing.

Played by Cam Gigandet, the sheriff, Hicks, is another good part of the adventure and doesn’t become annoying like some sidekicks in these adventure films (Rob Schneider from 1995’s Judge Dredd comes to mind as both films feel very similar in places).

Maggie Q later appears as an equally kick ass Priest and makes a welcome addition to the team as the story builds up to its action-packed climax.

There are also brief appearances from some other great actors, Christopher Plummer is the head of the church, Brad Dourif as a con man, and Alan Dale (it’s Jim from Neighbours!) as a chamberlain of the church.

If there were any downsides for me, it was the fact the film is purposely left open on certain plot elements for further adventures. Unfortunately, the film wasn’t a huge success at the box office and certainly not enough to warrant any further films.

As if you couldn’t tell, I really loved this film. Admittedly, there are influences and clichés from other films but in this package running just shy of ninety minutes in never lets up and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

If you fancy some sci-fi vampire slaying that still looks good ten years on, you can’t go wrong with Priest.

Priest was a fantastic piece of entertainment that I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy this much!




John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.