Now in theaters
Nicolas Cage as Behmen
Ron Perlman as Felson
Stephen Campbell Moore as Debelzaq
Stephen Graham as Hagamar
Ulrich Thomsen as Eckhart
Claire Foy as The Girl
Directed by Dominic Sena
The first excruciating genre experience of the year is here, courtesy of director Dominic Sena, a man best known for Kalifornia, Gone in 60 Seconds, Swordfish. His last effort, the Kate Beckinsale thriller Whiteout, was weak sauce, however, Season of the Witch – a script with auspicious beginnings (it was a hot spec) – presented him the opportunity to stretch his, er, talents with a period flick that is steeped in the realm of the supernatural. I’m not certain if, through the film’s journey from script to screen, Season was tampered with (be it on set or in the editing room), but it’s an awful mess. And it didn’t dawn on me until the third act reveal that the story slightly resembles Army of Darkness. Yeah, no kidding. Weird comparison, but stick with me.
You’ve got a witch that needs transporting from one location to another in this movie, but the core is about a man who needs to get a book filled with archaic passages that can vanquish evil. Ah, but there’s a malevolent force that is intent on stopping our hero and taking hold of the book. Demons, witches, dusty tomes, all set against the backdrop of a village stricken by fear. Awesome, right? Not really. Season of the Witch misses the mark every step of the way posing very few intense threats and comes across as more awkward than clever in its approach to the miscast characters (yes, even you Ron Perlman, sorry man).
The problems begin in the first five minutes when a digitally-augmented witch kills a man of the cloth. The witch is a freaky sight with an ashen complexion and is all nails and teeth. She doesn’t scream, “I’ll swallow your soul!” but you might expect her to. Following this “shocker” opening (a shocker to the general public, apparently, at the screening I sat in on), we’re introduced to Behmen and Felson, Crusaders fighting the good fight for God and all that implies. Sena orchestrates the epic action sequences – involving the two leads to establish they are beer-swilling ass kickers – like something you’d see out of an early 2000’s Ridley Scott filmâ¦or The Mummy Returns. They look out of date, fake and claustrophobic, something you’d shoot against a green screen on a tight soundstage – which is something that could be said about the overall production design for the rest of the film.
Weary of the innocents they are asked to kill and disillusioned by the whole “crusade” movement, Behmen and Felson drift from their army, but it isn’t long before they’re captured and recruited (by Christopher Lee who does a hell of a job enunciating his dialogue without a lisp, even though half of his top lip is gone) to move an accused witch from one town to another because she is said to be the originator of the black plague. So, the game plan is to deliver this gal to a monastery equipped with a book that will exorcise whatever lurks within her.
Behmen and Felson are accompanied on this journey with a holy man, another knight, a former altar boy with dreams of being a knight, and a “swindler” who happens to know the easiest path to their destination. Ah, but it’s a path filled with sundry dangers like: A decrepit bridge that might give way at any moment (it’s the Sorcerer moment of the movie). Then there are the wolves – are they under the witch’s spell? Sena, working from Bragi Schut’s script, has you second guessing the witch’s innocence every step of the way. But not really, because Sena curiously allows his camera to linger on the witch (Claire Foy) just long enough for us to see her making sinister faces. The mystery is pretty much nilâ¦the bitch is evil.
Much of Season of the Witch‘s story is predicated on building the illusion that this woman may not be who many say she is, so there’s a whole lot of character filler that’s more silly than dramatic. Cage teeters in and out of an accent and Ron Perlman is being Ron Perlman most of the time. Foy, meanwhile, uses her big doe eyes to full effect while she’s lit by a faint blue light that’s coming from an unknown source. And speaking of color schemes, Season of the Witches favors blue and orange hues giving the whole picture an Argento-esque feel. Too bad there’s not enough stunning eye candy here to make you dismiss the hokey dialogue (there are some truly bottom-of-the-barrel one-liners like “Weâre going to need more holy water!”) and weak story, like Argento’s films.
Some of the practical effects are appropriately gnarly, but by the time the ending rears its head, it’s full-tilt CGI nonsense with demons and possessed monks crawling along ceilings. Which brings me to this: Can filmmakers simply stop making things crawl on walls or ceilings? It no longer works. It made me groan when Sommers did it in the Mummy flicks (oh shit, another nod to The Mummy) and it makes me groan now.
I can go on and on about how much I dislike Season of the Witch, the missed opportunities it had, the Nic Cage factor and its atrocious denouement that calls for a voice over (I’m noticing a trend of “concluding voice overs” in crappy movies). But I’ll close by saying that the film is just as dreadful as the trailer makes it out to be. C’mon, you know you said, “That looks like crap!” when that trailer made it’s debut. Well, I can definitively say Season of the Witch is indeed filled with bad mojo.