'Priest' Film Review
So, I was in the supermarket a few weeks ago getting my normal groceries and I walked past the movie section once again. Now, I've actually gotten good about not buying every movie I want when I want it since I got to college (must be a money thing...), but this DVD has caught my eye every time I've walked into Smiths. In big, bold letters it read "FALLEN ANGEL". In this $10 DVD set, the films Legion, Priest, and Gabriel were included, the first and last of which I had seen before (I'm not a huge fan of them but upon rewatching I have come to enjoy them slightly more, although they're totally off like most films and TV shows are when it comes to biblical history). However, I had not seen Priest. For years my brother has been telling me to watch this movie, saying that (much like the Book of Eli) I would really appreciate and enjoy it. I refused for a long time partially because it was by the same guy who directed Legion, which was a movie that made me more mad than anything else at the time. But I gave Priest a shot and to be totally honest I'm really glad I did because I absolutely love this movie. Let me explain why.
First of all, Priest is an action movie. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm kinda a sucker for action movies. Terminator 2: Judgement Day is on my list of Top 5 favorite films, I absolutely adore Mad Max: Fury Road, and I'm a big fan of the Underworld franchise. Those are just a few, but the point is that I'm a fan of action films, especially when they include supernatural entities, sci-fi scenery, and philosophical (dare I say, biblical) themes throughout, which Priest definitely does.
My intention with this little review isn't to spoil the film for anyone, but I want to put out a POTENTIAL SPOILER WARNING out there for anyone who hasn't seen this film and wants to.
The background of the Priest-verse is that vampires and humans have been at war since the beginning of time. The Church (a religious organization that sets up a theocracy and is essentially the government as well as the religious institution, think the Vatican to Vatican City) had fought the vamps during the old Vampire Wars which basically destroyed the Earth, leaving the Clergy to construct walled, fortified cities for humanity to live in while their footsoldiers, the Priests, who were given supernatural abilities by God basically, were to fight against the vampire hordes. After the War, the Priests were disbanded but, much like Vietnam vets, were hated by the people and have to essentially live off the streets. This is where we meet Priest (the only name given to the films self-titled protagonist) who finds out that vampires attacked his brother and his wife (Shannon, the Priest's former-girlfriend before he joined the Priesthood), killing them and taking their daughter, Lucy.
You can imagine where this leads. But I don't want to talk about the film's plot, because I do enjoy it. In fact I don't want to talk about anything in this movie (even the stellar action sequences) except the biblical themes invested in. That is after all what this blog is about, what actually matters.
Let's start with the Church. The Church in Priest is very much portrayed the same way people in our modern times and culture see the church. It is no longer this "symbol of hope", the Light of the World as Jesus Himself called us, but it is instead more of a symbol of oppression, religion, and even despair. Comparing the Church in Priest to an institution in the Bible, I'd compare it to the same priesthood that the Pharisees and Sadducees occupied during Jesus' day. In more modern terms, I would compare it to the Roman Catholic Church mostly, but also to organizations such as Russian Orthodox or any other "legalistic" church out there (some of which are protestant).
I really wish the Internet could tell me more about Scott Stewart, the director of this film as well as Legion, because I feel like he was hurt as a child by some church and it has directly influenced the way he portrays both God in Legion and the Church here in Priest. In any event, I don't think the way the Church is portrayed here in this film is actually wrong. Now, biblically it's clearly wrong because that was not how the church was set up to be; fellowship with believers doesn't have to be in a specific building or necessarily organized the way most religious institutions do.
But most of America nowadays doesn't go to the Church in their time of desperation or need (they don't even go to God for that matter), instead they go to the bottle, pills, or some other ungodly form of psychological help that fails to recognize either the sin or demonic problems attached to said person. That's a-whole-nother article for a different day however.
I think what I really like about the way Stewart handles religion in this film is that he doesn't actually bash God. He shows the corruption (political, spiritual, etc.) in the Church and how it's being used against the Lord, while at the same time he makes it very clear that Priest himself is on the Lord's side.
Let me explain. When Priest decides he's going to go and save Lucy from the vampires that have taken her, the Clergy tell him no. They say that his War is over and that he has no right and that he could basically be imprisoned or worse if he disobeys them. But in an act of love, he rebels against the Church and goes to save his niece. However, even in this act of "rebellion", Priest makes it very clear in his prayer to the Lord that he is not disobeying Him, he's disobeying an organization that is essentially asking him to sin by ignoring this plea for help.
Paul Bettany (known by most as JARVIS from the Iron Man films or the Vision in the current Avengers series) plays Priest incredibly as he is very clear in his motivation to save his kin, while still trying to honor his Lord who has given him his abilities to fight vampires in the first place.
Something else I really liked about this film, and this is a minor thing, is the idea that, in this world, vampires don't actually have eyes. The reason for that, explained by the Church, is that the "eyes are the window to the soul", and vampires have no soul. I really like that because it brings back the concept that God did not create vampires, just as we read in Scripture that He did not create the Nephilim, they were born out of sin and rebellion against God when the fallen angels married the human women. It's a small thing but I think the concept still applies and I really enjoyed it.
Also, Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Dredd, Almost Human) plays a FANTASTIC former Priest-turned-Vampire known only as 'Black Hat'. The only "human" vampire, also kind of referencing the angel/man hybrid concept I spoke of above.
Beyond all the exciting action, special effects, futuristic world, and western-like environments, Priest is actually a compelling and exciting film that I would highly recommend to the Christian struggling to find any decent, non-sexual or uber-violent action films out there, much like I would recommend Book of Eli (granted both films contain references to those things as well as bloody action sequences at times, however the message of these films are the reason for watching). I think Priest is a great social commentary on how you can follow the Lord, Jesus Christ and the only Way to God the Father, while choosing to reject the religious institution calling itself "the Church" in order to allow God to lead you to the people He would have you fellowship with (the actual Church). This film reminds me of the films that I myself want to make one day, hopefully it'll inspire you in some way too.