Holy Crap: Two Cranky Catholics Confess to Seeing ‘Priest’
Bret Watson: Nancy, I think we watched the ultimate mash-up movie today: Priest takes John Wayne’s The Searchers—in which a tough cowboy tries to recover a woman abducted by Indians—and substitutes killing-machine priests for cowboys, and vampires for Native Americans, then mixes in martial arts, action-movie chases, sci-fi…you name it. My usual partner in Crank, Bruce Fretts, was wise to sit this one out. As as our Guest Crank, or Grank, how’d this unholy mess strike you?
Nancy Bilyeau: It was more than just The Searchers plus vampires. It was The Searchers meets Blade Runner meets Once Upon a Time in the West meets Matrix meets a Star Trek Next Generation episode called “The Hunted.” I was really looking forward to it because I love vampire movies and I am fascinated with the Catholic church. I thought the priests would go after vampires as embodiments of Satan. Never happened! Vampires are supposed to be (a) sexy, (b) tormented and (c) scary. These vampires were like a cross between Alien and the Kracken in Clash of the Titans. I found myself obsessed with their nasty teeth. Maybe vampires don’t have to be brooding high schoolers who like to listen to Clare de Lune, but these vamps were boring yucky gooey blahs.
Bret: Vampires are more interesting when they’re more human than animal. These vampires were more werewolf. They were just roaring snot monsters. The Priest could defeat them all just by tossing them a Claritin.
Nancy: Were you scared during this movie? I wasn’t.
Bret: I was scared of hearing damage, since we saw it in a 42nd Street theater. But I’m never scared during movies. I can’t suspend disbelief. I don’t see dead people…I just see special effects.
Nancy: The scariest part was Christopher Plummer, as a bishop, screaming at Paul Bettany, the killer priest. It was like when Captain Van Trapp screams at Maria about what a terrible governess she is until she gets the kids to sing “Edelweiss” and then he wants to have sex with her.
Bret: Note to self: try singing “Edelweiss” tonight. Bettany did nothing for me. The movie is about his quest into a post-apocalyptic wasteland to retrieve a young woman kidnapped by vampires. I didn’t care about anything that happened to him because he was almost nonexistent as a character. He was just some bald guy with a cross tattooed on his face and a low raspy voice. He was as monotonous as the menu at a chain restaurant where every dish has cheese in it.
Nancy: I know! And he is usually so cool. I loved him in A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander. I didn’t care about any of the characters at all. I wanted the city of humans to be eaten. Go for it!
Bret: Applebee’s solution: coat them with cheese.
Nancy: Bret, we are Catholics. Was there anything priestly about the priests? They were like chaste ninjas or washouts from Jedi school.
Bret: I’ve never once seen a priest in church whip out mini crucifixes that transform into throwing stars.
Nancy: They had rosary nunchucks. It was tasteless enough to be offensive, but my emotions were not engaged enough to be offended
Bret: Exactly. The filmmakers seemed more inept than actively offensive. Forgive them, Lord, they know not what crap they make.
Nancy: Three Hail Mary’s and read Bram Stoker! That is your penance.
Bret: Maybe the only other similarity between priests and this Priest is that real priests speak in low voices in confession. But Bettany speaks in a low, raspy voice all the time—and so does Karl Urban as the villain! It’s like they’re in a Clint Eastwood imitation contest. Urban wins: his character, named “Black Hat,” even wears a poncho and black hat like Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns. But Priest is more of a penne Western, hollow on the inside.
Nancy: I was trying to figure out why the movie was both Blade Runner and Western. I did some research and learned it is based on a Korean comic book. For a crazy moment, when the priests were mad at “Monsignor” Christopher Plummer and talked about listening to God but not the church, I thought, Is this movie trying to say something about the Protestant reformation? Have I lost my mind?
Bret: But you did like the movie’s design, right? You said something like that as we staggered out of the theater.
Nancy: Yes, I liked the production design. The images were cool. Do you know they sat on this movie for months to add in the 3D?
Bret: The 3D is barely there. There’s just enough to force you to wear the 3D glasses and pay extra for the privilege.
Nancy: When Brad Dourif with bad teeth can’t even liven up the party with some creepster moves, things are bad. Time to sharpen some stakes! But how about the dialogue? Every single line was a cliché.
Bret: It was a Bonnaroo of movie clichés.
Nancy: Yes, and Paul Bettany had to be the Eminem of Priest. Poor man. “You’d have made a good priest” in a raspy whisper. “Don’t let it go to your head….” One movie cliché that must be destroyed is the authority figure who refuses to let the hero protect the town because “we can’t frighten people.” “Nothing to see here, people. Keep moving.” This started with Jaws and it just never ends.
Bret: Yes, why must every action movie come down to three people versus an army? The evil mob of 5,000 never wins against the trio.
Nancy: It was so predictable! About 15 minutes into the movie I knew what the hero’s mission would be and that he would succeed. I would have bet all the gold in the Vatican on the outcome.
Bret: You probably foresaw the climax of the hero and the bad guy battling it out atop a moving freight train. And that the hero would be knocked off, oh did he fall to the tracks? No, wait, he’s holding on by one hand!
Nancy: I thought that since the filmmakers were screaming Searchers at me nonstop—it was like being in a Film 101 class with a John Ford obsessive—that they would do something interesting when the girl is found. But they didn’t.
Bret: Yes, it’s Searchers right down to the possibility that the Priest would kill the girl if she had gone to the other side, gone native/vampire.
Nancy: I was all for that. Priest made me homicidal.
Bret: Oh c’mon, you laughed several times!
Nancy: I laughed a lot.
Bret: Not in appropriate places, mind you…
Nancy: I laugh between my kills. I am like Dexter.
Bret: I think Priest hit on a valuable idea for Hollywood: Take any un-PC concepts in old movies and add vampires or other aliens. For instance, redo Birth of a Nation with the Ku Klux Klan fighting zombies.
Nancy: How about Gone with the Wind? The slaves are really…ghosts!
Bret: There you go! “I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’…ZOMBIES!”
Nancy Bilyeau is an author and editor who lives in New York City. Her upcoming mystery novel, ‘The Crown,’ is set in Tudor England and features nuns…and maybe even a killer priest. Bruce Fretts returns later this week with the Cranky take on ‘Bridesmaids’ and ‘The Beaver.’
Did you see ‘Priest’? Or did you resist the temptation? Is it a crime against the church or maybe just Hollywood? Post your comments below!