Theatrical Review: SEASON OF THE WITCH

Brian Kelley

by: Brian Kelley
January 7th, 2011

Rating: 1.5/5

Writers: Bragi F. Schut
Director: Dominic Sena
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman

SEASON OF THE WITCH is the most frustrating kind of film. If it was really all that bad, it would be easy to dive in and talk at length about its many failures. On the other, if it was good, a passionate discussion of its merits would ensue. Instead, it's an unoriginal, indecisive mess of a film to be sure, but it attacks that mess with just enough talent to keep the hopes that it will get better just slightly afloat. Spoiler: it is never anything better than mediocre.

After killing hundreds of men (and usually making a game of it), crusading knights Behman (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) have grown weary of killing in the name of God and leave the Church's army. They stumble upon a village and, ignoring the tornado like plume of buzzards swirling above, proceed to enter. Inside, they learn a plague has stricken the village and several others in the area. The Church has determined a witch has caused the plague and even has her confession on record. When the village leaders learn that Behman and Felson are Crusaders, they recruit them to transport the young girl to a monastery where a group of monks have the last copy of a book that will allow them to perform a ritual that will end the plague. They will also be able to give the accused with a fair trial. Joining them on this quest are a priest named Debelzaq, a knight named Eckhart who lost his daughter to the disease, a guide named Hagamar, and a young boy, Kay, who desperately wishes to become a knight.

The threadbare plot leaves little to discuss. The major problem with SEASON OF THE WITCH is that, at its very core, it has a script that commits two very egregious sins. First, in the pre-title sequence, the audience is treated to the film's only moments of real suspense as we witness the hangings and drownings of three women accused of being witches. When the bodies are pulled from the water, a priest realizes there truly are evil forces at work. In the opening of the film it has been established that witches are very real and they are strong. Yet, after that, there is no tension built around the abilities of witches, the story becomes about Behman and Felson and their struggles with the Church. With the witch's curse in place (the plague), these struggles are mostly a bore, going against the tone established in the beginning. It feels as if a rug has been pulled out from under the audience.

This leads directly into the second problem. The script keeps the audience confused as to whether or not they should care if the girl the men are transporting (played with the only bit of charisma found in the entire film by Claire Foy) is really a witch or not. Very clear indications are given (she is shown performing feats of strength and a touch of magic) but mostly ignored, especially by Behman (the "softer" of the two knights) who defends her at every turn. The film insists on keeping it a mystery while establishing with little room for question (for both the characters and the audience) that this is not your normal human girl. Combined with the first major problem, one is left with a film that deflates its own central point of suspense while desperately begging the audience to hold on to it. If the script had even a hint of originality to carry the viewer through this wouldn't be so bad.

What makes all of this so unbearable is that there is obviously real talent involved. However, the wrong choices and easy routes are taken at every turn, yet things never become bad enough to dip into camp material. Nicolas Cage, who could have excelled in making this a fun romp if let loose (there are hints of his desire to do just this when he yells "shit" after being surrounded by enemies), looks uncomfortable and uninterested in what is going on. Perlman, likewise, seems content with dry delivery of barely passable dialog. As mentioned before, actress Claire Foy is the only one that brings any sort of spirit to her character, everyone else is just passable. Characters are built up with vague hints of motivations (don't worry, if you don't catch on to those motivations they are explained to you) yet are never fleshed out enough to grieve for when they die.

Director Domic Sena (GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS, SWORDFISH) has shown in the past he is able to bring an entertaining visual touch to less-than-great material. Here, he takes the lazy route, staging fight sequences in hurried closeups and never establishing exterior locales with anything more than a few hurried helicopter shots. Interior sets seem authentic, but never interesting and when CGI comes into play in the not-as-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is finale, it is laughable at best. 14th century Europe has rarely been portrayed with such little imagination.

SEASON OF THE WITCH wants to be smart and fun. Unfortunately it is neither. It does not have the wit to create any sort of suspense over its central themes of religion nor can it present itself as a straightforward adventure-horror with witches. At times, it tries both, though, and it comes out on the wrong side of mediocre in all cases. What one is left with is a empty shell of a film that isn't bad enough to inspire the energy required to hate nor is it anywhere near good enough to recommend.

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  • M Brinkley

    I cannot believe you found so much to say about such an empty film. Good job, sir!

  • M Brinkley

    I cannot believe you found so much to say about such an empty film. Good job, sir!

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