I wasn't going to see Priest
until I read Noah Berlatsky
. I could tell from the trailer that it wasn't offering anything new, nor was it going to even try. Indeed, it is cobbled together from clichés, tropes and designs borrowed from other films -- many of which would best be forgotten, as well. There's not one, but two "I won't let you / don't you let go" scenes as someone is dangling from the hero's hand. The villain conducts while his minions play a catastrophe on a town, just so you know how evil he is. Black Hat, the villain, is a former member of the superpowered priesthood, now corrupted by vampire blood, making him more powerful than both the pureblood vamps and the priests. The vampires are based on the same boring, wormlike design that was used in I Am Legend
-- preferred, I guess, because it's generic and doesn't require eyes
. Black Hat's main plan is get his old friend, Priest, to join him as a halfbreed and take over the world for the vampire queen. The worst offense is that the action is yet another uninspired appropriation of The Matrix
's bullettime. Why, then, did I see it? Because Berlatsky argues that the film is virulently racist, and I can't stay away from films that unintentionally go horribly ideologically wrong. He had my hopes up for another 300
or the aforementioned I Am Legend
, but is it a "racist piece of shit," or just shit?
The film's one innovation -- if you can call it that -- is borrowing the basic plot from The Searchers
. In John Ford
's classic, the Comanche kidnap Ethan Edwards' (John Wayne
) niece, torch his brother's homestead and kill most of the family. The vampires do the same to Priest's (Paul Bettany
) family, bringing him out of forced retirement to find his "niece" (actually, his biological daughter), and, thus, against the direct commands of the church state that he serves. The heroes are accompanied by the nieces' suitors, both of whom intend to keep the girls alive against the uncles' vows to kill their nieces if they show signs of infection -- cultural in the case of the Indians and genetic in the case of the vampires (or, I guess you might say, genetic mutation determines an ideologico-moral shift in the latter). It's the substitution of vampires for Indians in the plot that is central to Berlatsky's condemnation:
[I]f the Indians are vampires, suddenly you don’t have to shilly-shally. One by one the Western set pieces are trotted out and stripped down to their primal level of racist hatred and fear. The (white) family of peaceful farming folk out on the frontier is beset, utterly without cause, by slavering, hideous eyeless beasts. The reservation on which the vampires are herded is an impoverished, backwards tract of dirt—surrounding a slimy, stinking pit of sub-human insectoid breeding and bloodletting.