PRIEST, based on the graphic novel by Min-Woo Hyung, is a dark and murky thing. The apocalyptic alternate universe, where vampires and humans have battled throughout history to the detriment of the planet at large, has confused both ennui and obvious symbolism with an arch style. Only Paul Bettany, as the title character taking it all with a grim and subtly ticked-off seriousness, renders it at all watchable.
The alternate universe is a cross between 1984 and several iterations of the western genre, with the church, as in our own universes Dark Ages, the only glue holding civilization together after the infrastructure has collapsed. Though, in this case, the power of darkness the church is fighting is made manifest in the person of vampires, rather than theoretical in the person of Satan. In a hurried prologue told in indifferent animation, the tale is told of the church training up a cadre of priests and priestesses with unusual, ninja-like powers, and tattooed with a cross across the forehead and down the nose. Once the vampires, eyeless, pulpy things with a tangle of cool snaggled teeth, have been relegated to reservations, the church disbands the priesthood, and leaves them to fend for themselves with limited job skills outside of their calling. When the eponymous priest (Bettany) learns that his niece, Lucy (Lily Collins), has been kidnapped by vampires, he breaks his vow of obedience and takes off for the wastelands with Lucys beau, Sheriff Hicks (Cam Giganet), in order to rescue her. That would include killing her if shes been infected by the vampires. Shades of THE SEARCHERS.
Things progress in a thoroughly clichéd manner, with few deviations from the standard tropes and idioms, right down to the churchs corrupt self-interest in the person of Christopher Plummer as the Monsignor, Maggie Q as the priestess who longs for non-spiritual fellowship with the priest, and Karl Urban as the mysterious man with no name and a big secret. Lackluster direction and action sequences that are bogged down with a disturbing lack of imagination create a minefield for Bettany to negotiate. The others more or less take a hands-off approach, but Bettany squares his jaw and makes his character textured and driven, calmly focused and grimly devout as he wields cross-shaped ninja stars or carefully carves minute crosses on the heads of bullets.
PRIEST never delivers excitement or suspense. It plods along through its plot holes, skimping storytelling, and silly mistakes with a gravitas that makes the whole thing seem even more ponderous.