Well, the critics may have pronounced PRIEST undead on arrival, but I found plenty to like in this post-apocalyptic SF/vampire horror hybrid. A constellation of stars who can act—Paul Bettany in the title role, Karl Urban as his nemesis “Black Hat”, Maggie Q (of “Nikita” fame) as the woman who fights by his side, and Brad Dourif and Christopher Plummer to chew the scenery with dignified relish—lifts the movie above its humble “B” status. And beyond its genre-blending premise, a retro-SF, steampunkish look infuses the film, making this more than the usual popcorn fare.
Unlike the stylish, corporate-evil vamps of 2009’s DAYBREAKERS, the bloodsucking creatures of PRIEST are naked, alien, eyeless monsters, and they have lost the war with humanity in this alternate universe. Some twisted version of the Catholic church has vanquished them, using an army of warrior-priests, and now rules over a dispirited remainder of the human race in walled cities. Outside those cities, humans still live in isolated outposts, mostly free of the influence of the church, but vulnerable to predators of all sorts.
When the Priest receives word in the city that his niece has been kidnapped from a remote outpost, he tries to convince his church superiors that vampires have taken her, and begs permission to go after them. But admitting to the truth of this attack would undermine the church’s official position that the vamps are no longer a threat. The monsignors forbid him to go. Of course, he goes anyway.
His search for his niece takes him into the desert wilderness, where, in the manner of all quests, the Priest acquires both wisdom and companions. His niece’s lover (Cam Gigandet), the trigger-happy young sheriff of the outpost town she called home, had been the one to fetch him from the city. The kid insists on pursuing the vamps with the Priest, even after his first encounter leaves him frozen with fear. And, of course, the Priestess (Maggie Q), one of several of his church brethren sent to punish him for defying his superiors, reveals her long-hidden love for him as she gives up everything to fight with him. (That moment sounds corny, but it’s handled with much restraint, reminiscent of scenes in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.)
The plot has a few interesting twists and turns, which I won’t reveal here in case you plan to see the film. Suffice it to say the vamps are planning a comeback, led by a vamp/human hybrid (Karl Urban). The kidnapping was merely a ruse to lure the Priest in for the conversion or the kill. He must find a way to save his niece and stop the coming attack on the cities before the popcorn runs out. Vampires die spectacularly. Things blow up. The good guys win. And the Priest rides off into the desert, setting the stage for a possible sequel.
As I said—what’s not to like?
Actions I've taken as a writer. Where am I? What am I doing?
I led off this week with more new material on Fools Rush In, but Tuesday I read my last chapters of Trouble in Mind for my critique partner, Linda. That session, and feedback from another contest in which I did not place, have led to more revisions on the manuscript, both major and minor. I’m rethinking my approach to the story overall and may be discussing that with my blog partners and IP’s extraordinaire, Sharon and Laurie here in the next week or so.
As always the issue is how much SF is too much for the general audience? How and when do we present all that SF info? Trouble in Mind is a much more SF-heavy story—a third of it takes place with the bad guy alien on his planet—and though what happens there is the entire justification for what happens on Earth with the hero and heroine, it is in some ways separate. For that reason (and also because she just doesn’t care for SF), my CP is voting those sections off the island. **sigh**
I thought by mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar I could interest the “muggles” in strange new worlds, but it seems no matter how much they love the mundane parts of my stories, they still hate anything that smacks of off-planet. And, no, I don’t write anything approaching hard SF. I’d be laughed out of WorldCon as a lightweight.
I bring this up not to whine (though this is a journal—some whining is surely allowed), but because I think as writers in a new sub-genre we’re all struggling with this balancing act in one way or another. Agents, editors, writers—everyone in the business is trying to figure out just where SFR fits, because no one is really sure just who our readers are (or will be). To a certain extent, I think your audience will depend on your book more than your categorization as “SFR”.
For example, my work has a strong romantic suspense component (like J.J. Abrams meets Linda Howard), so the right marketing strategy could bring in a lot of new RS readers. Laurie’s strong space/science orientation will draw more interest from traditional SF fans. Sharon’s supernatural underpinnings will speak to readers of paranormal romance. And yet all of us can be said to write SFR, with a very different balance of SF and R.
So it’s back to the drawing board (or the computer) for me on this “troublesome” manuscript. At least I have some expert help close to hand as I struggle to find my way.