Score Review: Priest (Christopher Young)


Music composed by Christopher Young

Rating: ***** out of *****

It is an odd thing how horrible films have a tendency to produce some of the best films scores around. Just think of Cutthroat Island, First Knight, and now added to the list is Priest.

The film revolves around an alternate future in which humanity has been beset by an eternal war with vampires. Mankind has built great cities with high walls to protect themselves, and vampires have been contained on reservations outside of town in the harsh, unforgiving wilderness. Protecting humanity is an ancient order of Warrior-Priests, a branch of what is essentially the Roman Catholic Church. Predictably, the film was not very good and was generally panned by critics and didn’t do much more than break even, financially-speaking.

Nevertheless, the score to the film is nothing short of stellar. Christopher Young, a veteran compose most renown for his complex and haunting (and frequently dissonant) horror flick scores. Arguably his best in this latter category is 2009’s Take Me to Hell, a dark and menacing, disharmonious affair that is able to be marvelous anyway. Some of his horror conventions can be detected in Priest, although the score is excused from Young’s typical dissonant compositions. Rising and shimmering strings grace moments of tension over top a subtle electronic bassline and chanting choirs. A strange, dissonant string motif in the action material appears about halfway through “Sacorsanct Delirium,” but it manages to fit the intensity of the moment and is not offputing at all.

Mostly, however, the score runs a solid, harmonious whole of far-above-average action-fantasy music. Parts in the action material and the choral arrangements will allude back to Don Davis’s Matrix scores. The opening cue, “Priest,” will allude back to Young’s own Species score, with a gorgeous choir-and-organ finale reminiscent of his Hellraiser II score. Being a vampire film, it has the proper Gothic atmospheric development necessary for such content, and moments of epic Gothic power will draw the mind’s eye back to Debbie Wiseman’s glorious Lesbian Vampire Killers score. A string ostinato familiar to fans of Hans Zimmer suggests hints of the Batman Begins theme, appearing in the background in cues like “Faith, Work, Security,”  “The Vampire Train,” and “A World Without End.” Lisa Gerrard was hired to perform the haunting solo female vocals layered over the top of many cues like “The Vampire Train” and “Fanfare for a Resurrected Priestess,” reminding one of Gerrard’s haunting vocals in the Gladiator score. The minor theme, which appears most clearly in “Eclipsed Heart,” alludes back to the Vulcan material from Michael Giochino’s recent Star Trek score. Both scores utilized an ethnic, Eastern sound to create their subthemes.

The action material, some of the best I have heard in a good while, reaches its peak in “The Vampire Train,” a nearly 8-minute cue of rolickin’ power, with full ensamble, choir, and percussion instruments. The snare drum hits an intense pace reminiscent of James Horner’s best driving snare. The rhythmic drive of some of the other action cues, like “Sacrosanct Delirium” and “Cathedral City Blue,” fail to remain consist in the same driving way as “The Vampire Train,” which becomes in some ways the action highlight of the whole score.

The main “Priest” theme is full of hunting, chasing, driving energy, often counterpointed over top of the Batman Begins-esque ostinato string motif like in “Cathedral City Blue,” but the truly powerful, beautiful theme of hope and redemption is given to the “Priestess,” and appears in its full power in cues like “Fanfare for a Resurrected Priestess” and “Cathedral City Blue.” Due to the subject matter of the film, the score is darkly Gothic in many cues, and so the “Priestess” theme of redemption is a welcome relief to the often relentless darker material.

But the true highlight of the score has to be the final track, “A World Without End,” another nearly 8-minute cue that interweaves the two main themes, the “Priest” and “Priestess” themes, together, and is an exclusively victorious, hopeful piece the whole way through, with some extremely Horner-esque french horns layered in at many places. This rounds out the narrative arc of the score nicely, moving from darkness to light, from death to life. The obvious reference to the ancient church liturgy that concludes its petitions to Christ with the closing phrase, “world without end, Amen,” Young gives us a hint of that final victory over sin and death promised in the new creation in the destruction of the vampire threat.

A top-notch effort. Highly recommended.

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