Many movies lack purity of purpose. They try their hardest to hit every possible base they can think of for no other reason than that they think their central plot or conceit is not strong enough to support a film on its own. Subplots become bloated, the primary narrative engine of the film strains and stalls under their weight, and as a result the movie as a whole feels bloated and yet oddly empty and lifeless.
When a movie really commits to its insane plot, really allows its out-of-left-field premise to take control over the proceedings, it is a rare pleasure. Shoot ‘Em Up comes to mind as one of these films, and it is in that same vein of uncomplicated action-packed fun that I find you.
You begin with a dark, noise-and-violence-filled scene of panic and sacrifice and confusion. From there, you lunge into a bloody animated sequence that fills us in on your alternate history. Vampires and man have been warring for as long as can be remembered, and only upon the founding of the Priests, a clan of warriors who helped win the war, was a kind of peace attainable. Now the Priests are disbanded, and the Church has become a 1850?s paranoid schizophrenic’s version of the Catholic Church.
Your story is so gloriously wacky and overblown, and yet you play it so straight that it is impossible not to be drawn in. The automated confessionals, the continued chants of “to go against the Church is to go against God.” It all culminates into a ‘sinister’ world that is unbelievable and frankly improbable to the viewer, but is treated with enough gravity by every one of your characters that it still gets sold.
Yet all of this is just back story, the palette upon which your actual narrative will be writ. Luckily, unlike a lot of films, you don’t waste time explaining things to death or trying to convince the audience of the world you represent. You have a story to tell, and we are either in for the ride or we are not. Before we’ve even gotten used to the eternally dark, pollution-choked city we are thrust out into the sun-bleached wastelands that surround it as the Priest seeks out his kidnapped niece.
From there you become a succession of set pieces and interactions that are gleefully predictable in terms of story beats, but inventive in terms of action. The joy of a movie like you isn’t in the unpredictable but in the execution, and your execution is superb. We can predict, for instance, that the Priest’s brother will die as they share a final goodbye just as much as we can predict that his last words will be “kill them all.” But the intensity of the actors and their commitment to this reality makes it all work somehow. In your world, everyone’s intensity is cranked to 11, and so we as an audience never see the cracks in the outrageous facade, making it that much easier to get lost in it.
This is especially true when Priest is trying to convince the Church of the vampires’ renewed threat to the world. The clash of the young, intense black muslin-clad protagonist against not just the vampires but the Church elders is enhanced by his dispassionate one liners, growled out through clenched teeth and filled with enough gravitas to sink a cargo ship. His eyes remain in a constant squint of focus, and though he seems to be seething with power and ability he never seems out of control. There is a great joy to be had in your revival of the stoic, unflappable hero who can barely be bothered to speak more than three words. He shirks everything in the service of his sacred goal, including both of his predictable romantic interests.
You gallop forward on these cliches and archetypes with a forward momentum that is unhindered by exposition or overindulgence in extras. There are relationships and love triangles and questions of origin and history, yes, but they are treated exactly as they would be in real life. Characters make inquiries, those inquiries are answered, and that is the end of it. There is no explanation that feels out of place in this world. It’s an oddly realistic choice of dialogue given your otherwise over exaggerated nature. It also frees up the bulk of your runtime for vampire-killing action. There’s no time for silly conversation, the sun is going down!
But all of this is something of a moot point. Defining why all of these characteristics make you worthwhile feels perfunctory. Is there action? Yes. Are there disgusting creatures dispatched in exciting ways? Yes. Is there a final battle that takes place on top of a speeding train? Yes. Is the phrase, “it’s only beginning” deployed with complete sincerity? Yes. In the face of all this, nothing else could matter.
Priest, you are a strange mash-up of I Am Legend, The Matrix, and The Searchers, and in all honesty I wouldn’t have you any other way. You’re a fun time at the movies, and what else could one want from an early summer fling?
You know how to show a guy a good time,
Brian J. Roan