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The World Of Priest
This is what is known: There has always been man… and there have always been vampires.

For the film Priest, Cory Goodman and Scott Stewart created an elaborate origin story to explain how a world familiar to our own, but utterly foreign, became the site of a struggle between two antithetical races trying to coexist.

"Humans and vampires have been locked in mortal combat throughout history,” says producer Mitchell Peck. "Humans have typically had the upper hand, but when resources become scarce, they turn on each other with nuclear weapons and decimate the planet. With humankind in this weakened state, the vampires gain the advantage.”

Faced with a terrifying and seemingly supernatural threat, people retreat into walled cities ruled by the Clergy. The theocratic powers-that-be respond to the vampire threat by training a special caste of warriors. Elite, elegant and brutally effective, they are known as priests. "The priests in the film are not like priests in our world,” says Stewart. "They are more like Jedi Knights. They're the soldiers for the church. They're trained in the art of killing vampires and they have special abilities. It might seem cool to become a warrior priest, but in fact, you are taken from your family and forbidden to have relationships. You become a kind of monk.”

Hand selected by the Clergy as children, the priests dedicate their lives to ridding the world of vampires. Their style of fighting is a lethal combination of real world martial arts skills and an otherworldly ability the filmmakers call "focusing,” a skill not so much supernatural as it is hyper-real. "The priests can stretch the boundaries of what human beings are capable of,” says actor Paul Bettany, who stars in the title role. "Through prayer, we are able to slow our surroundings down whilst moving at the same speed. Everything appears to be happening incredibly quickly, but in reality, the surrounding world has become slower.”

Producer De Luca points out that the idea of focusing pays tribute to earlier movies including Star Wars and The Matrix. "There's a Zen quality to controlling the connection between mind and body that is a genre staple,” he says. "In our movie, we call it ‘being in touch with the hand of God.' It's a mastery over physical space that allows an individual to do certain things that look supernatural.”

The priests did their job with ruthless efficiency and wiped out the vampire threat; the few remaining vampires have been imprisoned in high security "reservations.” And then the priests had to be reincorporated back into the society they saved. The war has ended some years before the start of the film, but the destruction has been almost total. Most of the world is a vast wasteland. The majority of the human population still lives in the Clergy's walled cities.

"The cities are a totalitarian dystopia,” Goodman explains. "In this world, a priest is what a Green Beret or a black ops operative might be in our world. He's a complete badass, gifted and trained in the art of vampire combat. The priests turned the tide of battle for humanity, but with the war over, they have fallen into the cracks of society.”

One of the obstacles standing in the way of their reintegration was formerly a mark of honor for the priests. Each bears an instantly identifiable tattoo of a cross on his or her face. "The cross now represents the sins of the war,” says Goodman. "For priest, it's a constant reminder of the wreckage that he has become since it ended. It's a stain that can't be washed off, as well as a point of pride.”

In a scene early in film, a boy, too young and naïve to know the history, asks Priest if the tattoo hurt. "That was what made me want to make this movie, more than the action or the effects,” says Stewart. "Paul Bettany and I talked a lot about that scene. Priests have incredible talent and ability and spirituality, but now people won't sit next to them on the bus. They have menial jobs. They've lost so much, including all connection with other people. Even children stare at them as curiosities. In that scene, we get the sense of how much Priest longs to connect.”

The enemies that the priests battled are as different from their counterparts in conventional fiction as the priests are from their real world corollaries. Producer Michael De Luca says that rather than go with the traditional Gothic or romantic vampire, they wanted to return to idea of the vampire being terrifying. "Our vampires are a sister species that are more bat-like than human,” he says.

With dank, transparent white skin, sharp claws, and fangs, they look far more like Max Schreck's portrayal of Nosferatu than Robert Pattinson's Edward Cullen. "They're not something that anyone in their right mind would ever want to kiss,” says Goodman.

More creature than human, they lived and bred in enormous semi-subterranean hives before being relegated to the reservations. "I really liked the idea that they existed in these shelters that were insect-like,” the writer adds. "They are part of the natural landscape, but at the same time otherworldly.”

Designed by acclaimed visual artist and character designer Chet Zar, the vampires are mainly computer-generated, which allowed Stewart to manipulate them in unpredictable ways. "Once we unshackled ourselves from the practical, we could let them do anything we wanted,” says Stewart. "The vampires became sun-starved, humanoid creatures that had evolved without eyes. They can move in really unpredictable ways and are much faster than people. You can see all their skeletal structure underneath their skin and it's very different from ours. Their proportions are different than a person. They have extraordinary hearing and smell, to make up for being blind.”

The legends behind the monsters were also reinvented for the film. For example, humans who are bitten and not killed do not become vampires themselves. Instead, they are transformed into familiars: pallid, diseased-looking, hairless creatures that do the vampires bidding during the day while the vampires sleep. Priest's great fear is that Lucy will be turned into one of these soulless slaves. There is no cure and he is determined to kill her rather than leave her to that fate.

"There's something so frightening and titillating about vampires,” says Paul Bettany. "The idea of everlasting life is quite enthralling. But these vampires are a new thing altogether.”

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