Season of the Witch
Directed by Dominic Sena
Screenplay by Bragi F. Schut
Nicolas Cage as Behmen
Ron Perlman as Felson
Claire Foy as The Girl
Running time: 95 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content.
Bored At The Stake
There are many different ways to go when making a film about knights, witches, pestilence, the Middle Ages and so on. Make Witchfinder General, or The Seventh Seal, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Do not, however, make a dull, half-assed period adventure disguised by its ad campaign as a horror film.
Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman play two of the most legendary knights of the Crusades (apparently), who nonetheless grow disillusioned and desert the conquest of the Moors. Cage’s epiphany comes after inadvertently slaying a civilian in the heat of battle, which apparently he has never done before despite his unmatched prowess as a warrior. On the way home, they find themselves entangled in a quest to transport a suspected witch to a hidden monastery where she may stand trial for causing a widespread plague… blah blah blah. This is a perfectly good premise for dealing out some cheap scares, maybe a few grim laughs, and plenty of spooky atmosphere. Unfortunately, all three of these are in painfully short supply. For all its delightful B-horror potential, Season Of The Witch is a total snoozer.
Who remembers a little movie called Legion? It came out a year ago and made many people ashamed for having paid to see it. It was a cut-rate exercise in the stupid and the gross, with the production values of the worst Sci-Fi Channel movie you ever saw. The filmmakers must have spent eighty percent of the budget to secure theatrical distribution, which is not a good idea with an FX-heavy plot about fallen angels and heavy weapons. The cheapo presentation, and not so much the lame-brain script, is the really insulting part about Legion, and Season Of The Witch suffers from the same disease.
Even if some of the film was shot on location, it is in no way apparent. How can so many miles of misty woods, craggy mountains, and Gothic castles look so nondescript? If truth be told, the characters may as well have been shot completely against pre-rendered backgrounds of popular video games, most notably Capcom’s Resident Evil 4.
Early in the film, there is a montage demonstrating the battlefield prowess of the two lead knights, which seems to have been achieved by filming thirty seconds of hack-and-slash action and repeating it six or seven times with different colored filters and handy title cards to indicate a series of battles, such as “The Battle Of Smyrna,” “The Siege Of Tripoli,” “The Ballad Of Sarkozy,” and so on.
What little money the producers had seems to have been spent on half a dozen unnecessary CGI tweaks. Rather than investing in some genuine atmosphere for the movie, they would have us believe that a pack of wolves whose faces digitally contort before they attack is somehow neater and scarier than a pack of regular wolves charging out of the mist. Nonetheless, this battle with wolves is the only scene from the film that seems to have come from the trailer we saw last summer. By default it must be the best sequence in the film, and it’s not that great.
Forget about the production values for a minute. What of the story — you know, about witches? Release your bated breath and know that witchcraft is of no particular concern in this film which is so ostensibly based around the subject. Most of the story is devoted to a kind of bland, serious buddy quest between Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman, neither of whom display the smallest eccentricity or indulge in the slightest levity. Most of the other characters are fodder for their various misfortunes. The lovely young woman playing “the witch” spends most of her time casting sly, meaningful glances at her captors and occasionally looking pitiful to evoke their sympathy. Christopher Lee, in an extremely grotesque cameo, does the best acting in the film, and all he really does is act dead. And the big twist of the film? It is not worth hinting at or merely revealing out of spite. It is just plain crummy.
Indeed, “crummy” is a most fitting blurb for Season Of The Witch. At a time when we desperately need Cage to let loose his wacky side, he fails to rescue us from the insipid gravity of this movie. At least The Sorcerer’s Apprentice had lots of magic and mayhem to distract from its fundamental flaws. And though the horrific plague-stricken villagers look like something ripped straight out of Sam Raimi’s imagination, do not expect any rollicking Evil Dead-style antics to brighten the mood either. Any of these might have helped. Instead we get a film where two puffy, middle-aged knights regale each other in awkward, stilted cadence about good ale and times of yore. Why do they bother to speak without using contractions (the true hallmark of authenticity in any period piece) and yet occasionally mutter things like, “Let’s get the hell out of here,” and “I saved your ass again.” Mainly because this is as close as the script ever comes to a joke.
There seems to be a strong moral message trying to reveal itself in Season Of The Witch. Time and again, the morality of the Crusades, and of witch-burning, come into question. One gets the sense that the screenwriter’s primary influences are scary video games and a vague resentment of being raised in the Catholic church. Ultimately, the finer ethical points of killing in the name of God become totally muddled, as the end of the story more or less cancels out the apparent argument the rest of the movie was trying to make.
Let the rules of the medieval church determine the fate of this film. Put the reels into a garbage can. If the trashmen collect it successfully, it will piously decompose in oblivion. If the garbage can tips over in the night, then the movie is of the devil and must be burned.