Priest takes place in an alternate universe whose entire history has been shaped by ongoing pitched warfare between humans and vampires—here decidedly un-suave, larval, slimy things. The infestation has gone into remission, but the populace remain sealed into walled cities controlled by a dictatorial organization whose rites resemble those of the Roman Catholic Church (though, as evidenced by the gray, Judge Dredd–ful dinginess of the production design, this organization has none of the papist flair for décor). As one of a now-obsolete unit of elite warrior-priests, Paul Bettany defies edict and ventures into the extramural wastes following rumor of a vampire resurgence. Borrowing the plot of The Searchers, Priest plays loose with sci-fi, Western, and chopsocky elements, while excelling only as a study of genre filmmaking in its magpie, pick-and-mix phase, detached from cultural context, physical consequence, and intelligent performance. The abundant religious symbolism is divided between badass blasphemy and phony piety; neither have any reference to felt faith (these vampires fear the sun, not the Son). With Brad Dourif, briefly, as a snake-oil salesman vending holy water and indulgences—though the fact of Screen Gems charging viewers for an extra $4 for the privilege of wearing funny glasses to experience nonexistent 3-D effects slightly dulls the satire.

Nick Pinkerton