REVIEW: Season of the Witch [2011]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★


Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: January 7th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Relativity Media
Director(s): Dominic Sena
Writer(s): Bragi F. Schut

“Ever get the feeling God has too many enemies?”

Despite the random list of characters I’ve seen Nicolas Cage play—not to mention the almost infinite selection of those he could portray in the future—an armored knight fighting in the Crusades was not something I ever imagined to see him attempt. That malleable, chameleon-like hair of his doesn’t quite fit the 14th century, especially when juxtaposed with Ron Perlman’s brutish scowl for the duration. Watching the two very different actors joke before a fight about how the man with the least amount of kills buys the night’s round of ale is odd to say the least, the latter fitting the sword swinging perfectly while the former can do little to mask his goofy grin with a look of warrior malice. It’s only when the two find defenseless women and child at the other end of their blades—the latest in a string of wars the Grandmaster (Brían F. O’Byrne) has ordered them to kill in the name of their Lord—that the sensitive soul ever-present in Cage’s eyes comes out to play. It is here that Season of the Witch allows him to shed the chain mail and chew the scenery like expected.

The feature debut for writer Bragi F. Schut and the newest in a filmography that averages ho-hum from director Dominic Sena, the season at hand is one of darkness as the Bubonic Plague runs rampant, destroying towns and lives without discretion. Thought to be the curse of a powerful witch, a captured girl (Claire Foy), confessed as the perpetrator, must be taken to a remote monastery six days away so its monks may dispatch of her evil with words read from the Book of Solomon. Both Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Perlman), discovered as the deserters they have become after refusing to shed more innocent blood in the name of the church, are given an opportunity to reclaim their freedom by escorting the girl, along with a priest (Stephen Campbell Moore’s Debelzaq), a local knight (Ulrich Thompsen’s Eckhart), and their swindler guide Hagamar (Stephen Graham), to her fate. Each has his own reason to complete the task, whether faith, freedom, or honor, but watching this girl lurk around her cage with a sly smile piercing through the blackness only reminds us of the film’s prologue and the thought she may indeed be a witch after all.

It’s a short scene like all those we’ve experienced in the past of witches being hung and/or burned. Three women are led to the town bridge—a noose around each neck—ordered to admit guilt so their souls could be saved before their bodies are given to nature. While pleas for leniency are ignored as one falsely confesses and another admits guilt but not witchcraft, the third’s frighteningly disfigured face peers up towards the priest to say he’ll burn in hell. But when snapping each neck like a twig after throwing them over the edge should end a throwaway sequence, the holy man’s desire to pull up the bodies to perform a ritual expresses the importance of what has happened. This story isn’t merely about killing witches, eventually giving the audience one with kindness so Cage and company can save; no, it’s about a force of evil passing through generations and growing stronger as the decades pass. The priest’s words do nothing to one—her innocence posthumously proven—shake another as they pull the black magic from her corpse, and show the third’s unworldly strength begging us to remember her impossible disappearance.

So, when we ready for the trip through Germany, the idea this captured girl is possessed of the same witchcraft as the enchantress at the start burrowed its way into my thoughts. And even though it’s a Nic Cage film, I still wasn’t expecting to find many unexplained supernatural attributes, instead assuming there would be convoluted reasoning to string us along until discovering less impressive truths at the end. Surprisingly, though, Season of the Witch actually goes further into the realm of demonic hell than I’m sure most would expect and I was happy it did. Unfortunately, this is where originality ends and the mediocrity of by-the-numbers clichés begins. Characters die, recognizable stars exit earlier than expected, and the witch at its center preys on the fears of those escorting her, pitting them against each other to serve her own needs. Debelzaq believes unconditionally she is evil, Eckhart wants some sort of retribution against the plague that took away his family, Behmen hope she is merely misunderstood and savable to earn redemption for the atrocities he blindly helped cause, and Felson could care less, ridding himself of the girl his ticket back home.

While the runtime reads 95-minutes, 85 is closer to the mark without the credits. It’s a very short length that shows the simplicity of its plotline and one can stretch a six-day quest only so far. As such, Sena and Schut throw in an old rope bridge—the precariousness of crossing adding minutes, but not suspense—and two sequences, one with a pack of wolves and another possessed monk cadavers, where the enemies being fought are rendered almost completely harmless. Until the revelation I feel somewhat stupid for not figuring out beforehand, everything occurring plays out as a laborious chore to get us to the monastery. It’s a whole lot of fluff, a bunch of ‘is it an accent or isn’t it’ on behalf of Perlman and Cage, and abbreviated sword fights too brief to get any adrenaline pumping. The acting level exceeds what the film deserves, though, as Thompsen steals moments like usual, and the special effects work if only because the darkness shrouding each frame allows it to, but while I enjoyed the exorcism direction the girl’s evil branches towards, I can’t help thinking it’d be a better film if they let that power loose much, much sooner.


photography:
[1] Nicolas Cage (center) stars with Stephen Campbell Moore (left) and Ron Perlman (right) in Relativity Media’s SEASON OF THE WITCH. Photo by Egon Endrenyi © 2010 Season of the Witch Distributions, LLC All Rights Reserved.
[2] Claire Foy stars in Relativity Media’s SEASON OF THE WITCH. Courtesy of Relativity © 2010 Season of the Witch Distributions, LLC All Rights Reserved.
[3] Christopher Lee (in bed) and his devoted priest Stephen Campbell Moore star in Relativity Media’s SEASON OF THE WITCH.

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