Silver Screen: Priest 1/2*
Priest certainly has to be a candidate for Worst Movie of the Year, a contest that, unfortunately, always seems to have more entrants than Best Movie of the Year. There's some stiff competition, but it's going to be hard to beat this brief but still trying ordeal, a somber, joyless popcorn flick that's little more than an insufferable genre mashup of horror cliché s, Matrix action riffs, Orwellian dystopia, and Catholic iconography. It plays like the dumbass daydream of a slow-witted teenager as he drowses his way through Catechism class.
A cheap-looking animated sequence opens the film, but the cartoon visuals are mostly just a cover for a rush of exposition to explain the movie's silly premise. Mankind has long been at war with vampires, who here are not the brooding, high-cheekboned Twilight types but rather eyeless, gray-skinned monsters bearing no resemblance to humans. The vampires were winning the conflict until a group of highly trained assassin-priests turned the tide for the good guys. Why these priests were so much better trained and able to take down the vampires is never explained and never really makes any sense, but that's the least of the movie's worries.
The vampires are almost entirely defeated but, for reasons left unclear, they are not entirely killed, but rather shepherded onto reservations where they're kept under control. Meanwhile, the Catholic hierarchy that led the charge against the bloodsuckers has taken control of the country, and the archbishops (led by Christopher Plummer) rule society as funny-hat-wearing dictators.
Speaking of things that are never explained: The cities are ensconced in total darkness, while the countryside beyond the city limits is a barren, sun-blasted post-apocalyptic wasteland.
But at least the vampire threat is no more-- at least that's what the church leaders claim, but that's called into question when a family in a remote outpost (outpost for what? Again, totally unclear) is savaged and the daughter (Lily Collins of The Blind Side) is spirited away. Her only hope is her unnamed uncle (Paul Bettany), who is one of the last priests after the guild was disbanded and the survivors were shunned (for reasons that are, yet again, utterly unclear). He sets out on a quest to rescue her, not aware that the mastermind of the attack is an old war buddy (Karl Urban) who was turned into a vampire-human hybrid, something that has never happened before but suddenly came about... for reasons that are (you guessed it!) unclear.
Priest is a test of patience from start to finish. While watching the bloodless Bettany scowl his way through the picture, I couldn't help but recall him as the neo-religious albino in The DaVinci Code flagellating himself; the only thing this movie is good for is self-punishment. It's a popcorn movie with absolutely no sense of fun, a complete absurdity that poses itself deadly serious. Only Urban, so good as Bones in the Star Trek reboot, evinces any sense of fun as the stock bad guy in a black hat, but that doesn't even come close to atoning for the rest of the movie's sins.
Priest reteams Bettany with director Scott Charles Stewart, with whom he worked on another forgettable religious-themed horror-action movie, Legion. That film was terrible, as evidenced by the fact that you almost certainly don't recall it in the unlikely event you saw it at all, but at least it had glimmers of camp that made it intermittently enjoyable. This is a slog from start to finish, an unholy creature that never should have existed.