By Malice Intended of Planet Ill
It’s been nearly 13 years since the Wachowski Brothers unleashed The Matrix on an unsuspecting public. Though they no longer curry favor with fandom, their seminal sci-fi/action masterpiece still casts an impenetrable shadow over genre filmmaking. It introduced the sensibilities of Hong Kong action cinema to the western world, albeit with a cyberpunk twist. Those sensibilities quickly became an indispensable part of the American action filmmaking. They have so permeated American action films that they are now simply part of the fabric, and as such barely noticeable. Even though the initial sensation caused by the film was tarnished by two inferior sequels, its hallmarks are still employed by modern action filmmakers looking to give their products some visual flair.
Visual FX developer Scott Stewart, director of lasts year’s Legion, was clearly influenced by the Wachowski’s aesthetic. His latest film, the horror/action hybrid Priest, also pays tribute to that same visual style. In Priest, human beings wage a deadly war with vampires in an alternate reality. In the wake of that war, humans have been corralled into giant cities where the church rules with an iron fist. Ivan Issacs (Paul Bettany) is a warrior priest who emerges from hiding to rescue his niece, who has been abducted by the sinister Black Hat (Karl Urban), a former warrior priest who now lords over an evolved species of vampires. The face off between the two threatens to disrupt the uneasy peace that has been achieved.
Like just about every major comic book adaptation or superhero film released in the last decade, the characters of Priest take to the air with the assistance of wires, CGI, and slow motion photography. Those are but a few of the techniques that the Wachowski’s brought into vogue. In Priest they are combined with the dystopian palette of recent hits such as I Am Legend. The vampires, ravenous and animalistic, bare more than a passing resemblance to those of Will Smith’s 2007 hit, leaping about from surface to surface like frogs with razor sharp teeth. The premise, which casts priests as vampires fighting superheroes, feels a bit contrived, but the trailer displays undeniable energy and abandon. With an irreverent enough attitude, Priest could be a lot of fun.
Priest will be released on May 13th, giving it a considerable head start on the summer movie season. This is to be expected as it does not seem to have the pedigree of a true contender in that arena. It has the distinct aura of something that was conceived to appease starving fanboys through the doldrums of winter season, when the “real” product arrives. Such films are usually released and dismissed fairly quickly. Then again, The Matrix was released to relatively little fanfare in March of 1999. It too had the air of a slight product that was meant to capitalize during a time of drought. The rest, as they say, is history.