Season of the Witch Review
Every year, a studio will make a small handful of films that get shelved for a few months. Towards the end of the ear, the studio releases the high-profile films that have a shot at the Oscars so that they will be fresh in everyone’s mind by the time the Oscars roll around. The films the studio does not have much hope for get released in January. As such, January is generally a “dumping ground” for films of lower quality, though there are exceptions (last year’s Book of Eli, one of my Top 10 for the year, was released in January). Leading the charge this year is the Nicolas Cage vehicle Season of the Witch, which comes screaming out of the gate with a vengeance. Toward the end of last year, I and a number of others committed to something called the “Nicolas Cage Promise”: a vow to see every Nicolas Cage movie released this year as soon as possible. Right off the bat, I have been gravely punished for my decision.
Season of the Witch, directed by Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds), is a medieval story taking place around the time of the Crusades, when the Templars cut across the country in their holy war and witch hunts were an everyday occurrence. Two soldiers, Behemen (Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman), come to the realization that along with the countless soldiers that have fallen under their blades, hundreds of women and children have died as well. They desert their army and return to their own land. When they arrive, they find a city ravaged by a plague. The alleged perpetrator? A young woman (Claire Foy) who remains unnamed, and who is a professed witch. After some persuasion, Behemen and Felson agree to accompany a monk named Debelzag as he transports the imprisoned girl across the country to an abbey in the north, where she will be tried as a witch and the curse will eventually end. But is she really a witch?’
As the party continues across the countryside, the story gets into a predictable rhythm where you can predict a character’s death almost down to the second. Stopping for camp? Someone’s going to die. Wolves? Someone will get eaten. A cliff with a rickety bridge? Why not! Claire Foy actually does a pretty good job as the girl, appropriately switching between menacing and innocent looking even when it doesn’t make any sense in the story.
Season of the Witch feels like it was written by a high school student with an obsession for fantasy stories. The horrible names for the characters (there’s another knight named Hagamar), the awful, stilted dialogue (Behemen and Felson bet on how many soldiers they kill and decide who will buy drinks after the battle), and sets and costumes that feel borrowed from the Renaissance Festival, everything about this movie feels cheap and low-grade. Part of the reason I made the Promise is because I truly enjoy Nic Cage; the man is a genius of bizarre overacting. While this seems like the perfect movie for him to do this, he unfortunately stays very mellow and low key until the climax, where he does a couple of things in his performance that were truly hilarious, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Ron Perlman seems to be slightly more aware of his situation and hams it up accordingly, though he too is a bit too serious. In fact, I feel like this whole movie would have been considerably better if it hadn’t been so aggressively grim. It just doesn’t work, and the scenes that are meant to be scary, serious, or tragic wind up eliciting chuckles. A scene toward the end involving possessed monks is easily the high point and the low point in the film because of how hilariously awful it is.
It’s even worse that Sena wants his film to be like Ingmar Bergman’s classic The Seventh Seal, though I’d say this has more in common with what might happen if Uwe Boll tried to make a serious, non-musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I truly miss when Cage used to do his more bizarre performances; I know he’s still capable, as he was delightfully insane in the recent Bad Liutenant and The Wicker Man. This movie would have been perfect for him had he taken advantage of it, but everyone simply plays it too seriously. As it stands, Season of the Witch is not quite “so bad it’s good”; it’s simply a terrible January movie that needs to be avoided. Here’s hoping the Promise is more rewarding next time.
For your enjoyment, here is a video montage of Nicolas Cage in some of his better freakout moments.
Score: * (out of 5)
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, and disturbing content
Released: January 7, 2011