Review: Priest 3D (2011)

Posted in Reviews by - May 18, 2011

What a grave disappointment. Priest 3D is a muddled mess, full of dull action and horrible dialog. The film haphazardly blends together staples and cliches from a variety of genres – horror, apocalypse, sci-fi, western, kung-fu – resulting in a visually confusing unmitigated disaster. In the end, the film plays most like a futuristic, Mad Max twist on the western film having Priests instead of Cowboys, Vampires instead of Indians, and motorcycles as horses. Paul Bettany is Clint Eastwood by way of Jet Li and Karl Urban is Lee van Cleef – hat and all. The ideas, while visually interesting at times, never gel to form a solid world for the story to exist in a believable manner. The technology never matches the society and the society fails to support the structural foundations surrounding the story. The direction is mundane, the acting stiff and uninspired, and the special effects are rehashed from prior superior examples. Adding insult to injury, the 3D is sub-par on a Clash of the Titans level, making the 3D in the recently released Thor look like a 3D masterpiece. Above all, Priest 3D commits the worst celluloid crime possible: it’s a dull, boring action film.

Cross Published with Widescreen Warrior.

Scott Charles Stewart (Legion) directs the movie from a script by Cory Goodman (Apollo 18) based on a popular Korean comic by Min-Woo Hyung. Stewart films Priest 3D with a fairly interesting flair and style but plays out his hand pretty quickly, leaving him to retread techniques incoherently throughout the film. The styles used come across inconsistent and disorienting. There’s no common thread to tie them all together. When Bettany’s Priest leaves the safety of the city, zooming out across the desert, the camera pans across the Priest’s path. It’s exciting and energetic. When the remaining Priests also leave the city, they leave in the exact same manner with the exact same pan which is uninteresting and repetitive and cheapens the previous scene. He does the same thing with the initial attack on the Pace family and the latter attack on the town of Jericho. With the very little contrast, the comparison between the scenes falls flat. He also has difficulty in handling the more intimate scenes and confrontations. Speeding trains, zooming motorcycles, and big fights – Stewart can handle these scenes, but a tight scene involving two characters full of emotions and character development, he fails miserably.

Paul Bettany (Legion) leads the cast as an unnamed Priest who learns the fate of the family he left behind when he joined a vampire hunting sect of the Church. Now he has to go against his faith to return to them in their time of need and rescue the captured Lucy. His motivations in doing so are left vague and unclear until the end, leading to a transparent twist toward the end and undermining his character in the process. Bettany does his best to give the character inner conflict but is unconvincing and unsympathetic. It’s not a terrible performance but he, and the character, lacks the charisma necessary to carry the film. Maggie Q (Balls of Fury, Nikita) plays a Priestess sent to recover Bettany’s Priest, dead or alive, but predictably sides with him instead. We are lead to believe that the two have a quiet emotional bond between them that feels disingenuous and forced. She handles her action scenes well enough, but the smaller scenes lack any matching spark or energy on the emotional level. Cam Gigandet (The Unborn, The Roommate) is ineffective as Sheriff Hicks, who insists on joining Priest in saving Lucy from the vampire clan. Instead of an asset to Priest (and the movie) or a strong bond between the captive and the rescuers, he’s luggage – dead weight. He slows down the film. Stephen Moyer (True Blood) is embarrassing in a small supporting role as the dying brother to Bettany’s Priest. For the most part, the actors do the best they can while they are force to make unreasonable decisions and actions and have to deliver groan-inducing lines which result in unintended chuckles and head-scratching.

Karl Urban (Bones from J.J. Abrams' Star Trek) has fun with his role as Black Hat, the only human vampire, leading the beastly vampires in their attack on the human cities. Drawing his inspiration from the villains in spaghetti westerns and dressed much like Eastwood’s Man with No Name, Urban delivers a performance that is both hammy and enjoyable – and more suited for the material than Bettany and Q’s more stoic, over-serious approach. He is also afforded more attention visually from the director giving him the best scenes in Priest 3D. His every action has character, whether he’s hiding behind his hat, peering through the dramatically placed hole in the hat’s brim or waving his arms along to the music as his vampire hoard decimates Jericho. He gives his character menace while the director gives his character the best lighting and camera angles. Similarly, Brad Dourif (Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Deadwood, Child’s Play) provides comic relief as the Salesman who secretly works for Urban’s Black Hat. Given only two scenes to play with, Dourif is able to create a memorable and enjoyable character where many of the remaining cast are left to struggle through the rest of the picture. It’s disappointing his character isn’t given more screen-time and I suspect that much of his role is left on the cutting room floor. Christopher Plummer chews up the scenery as Monsignor Orelas, who refuses to believe there’s a vampire threat remaining in the land. Even the more successful scenes with Karl Urban’s character are part of the overall problem with the entirety of the film. They’re so different than many of the other scenes, indicative of the film’s lack of identity.

Then there’s the vampires themselves. They are a real problem for the film. They’re poorly designed, unimaginative and uninspired. Having no eyes, they have only their large mouths and body language to convey their ferocity and intelligence. The succeed in neither, where the creatures in Alien/Aliens are able to channel cunning and savagery, the vampires of Priest 3D are just beasts. It’s difficult to understand how they were ever a threat to begin with. They are also given precious few scenes, which weakens their threat. For a horror film about a Priest who hunts and destroys vampires, the vampires themselves are just terrible, boring and disappointing. Sure, they’re mean looking, fast and (supposedly) many, but they’re never visually threatening and never seem to pose a huge threat to the lead characters which makes them ineffectual and inconsequential.

To make matters worse, Priest 3D has one of the worst 3D conversions yet. Even where the film should excel at 3D, it fails miserably. When ash falls on the city, it doesn’t pop; it doesn’t rain down on the audience as it should. The depth, even when in the desert, remains flat. There are a few times, when Bettany’s Priest begins throwing cross-shaped ninja throwing stars, that is comes close to embracing the 3D, but it still falls just short. When the characters venture into the vampire hive full of caverns, twists and turns, Priest 3D should have both displayed the depth of the pathways and the drops to the floor below and it should have suffocated the audience with the closing walls; instead, the depth falls back in flat planes, much like a child’s flip-out book. It’s a stunning example of what’s wrong with the studio’s understanding of 3D, how to use it, and how it can accent a film. When Gigandet’s Hicks points his weapon at Priest, the guns should be in the audience face, both visually and conceptually, instead it stops short for some reason, holding back just at the screen. It’s a grossly missed opportunity.

Priest 3D is full of missed opportunities. It’s incoherent, unfocused and confusing. And, worse of all, it’s boring. It has a few interesting, successful action sequences – the fight with guard monster-dog, the fight between Q’s Priestess and five vampire familiars and the fight between Bettany’s Priest and Black Hat – but they are too little and too sparse to salvage the rest of the film. The film is also afraid to put the characters in real peril, even the captive Lucy – who is in constant threat of being “turned” by Black Hat – is never actually put in the position the film suggests will happen. The dialog tells us that she is, but the film never takes that turn. If the script had placed her in that jeopardy, it may have provided some needed dramatic tension to up the tension and the stakes. Without that tension or stakes or anything resembling conflict, Priest 3D has trouble ramping up to become a successful action film or horror film or science fiction film or even a western film. It’s just dull, failing to understand its source material and neglecting to take advantage of modern 3D technology.

1.5 out of 5

This post was written by Doc Rotten
Doc Rotten is a film critic for Gruesome Magazine and podcast host for Horror News Radio, Monster Movie Podcast, Decades of Horror: 1970s, Decades of Horror 1980s, The American Horror Story Fan Podcast, Hannibal Fan Podcast and The Future of Horror. He was also co-host Dracula on TV TALK and was a contributing reviewer for HorrorNews.Net and Widescreen Warrior. He is also a lifelong fan of horror films, sci-fi flicks and monster movies first discovering Universal Monsters and Planet of the Apes as a young child in the 1970's searching out every issue of Famous Monster of Filmland (and, later, Fangoria). Favorite films include Jaws, The Car, The Birds, The Tingler, Vampire Circus and The Exorcist.