One question lingers after seeing Season of the Witch: What the hell?
Movies like Season of the Witch are fascinating for all the wrong reasons. They manage to snag big-name stars, in this case Nicolas Cage, Christopher Lee (buried under loads of makeup), and – the not-as-big – Ron Perlman. But the stranglehold comes in when a story that wants to play to an epic scale (in a scant 95-minute runtime) is limited to a relatively modest $40 million budget. Keep in mind Return of the Jedi cost $30 million way back in 1983.
The end result is a resounding thud of banality. It’s well-meaning, lifeless junk that suffers from a multiple-personality disorder.
Season of the Witch dabbles in spooky religious horror along the lines of The Exorcist and The Omen; crusade action similar to Kingdom of Heaven; and a rag-tag-group quest that is eerily reminiscent of Krull, including that guilty pleasure’s crummy special effects. But Dominic Sena apparently sees all of this as a retooling of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.
Lofty ambition, that. And it’s good to see Sena, who’s made other non-classics like Whiteout and Gone in Sixty Seconds (also with Nicolas Cage, itself a genuine remake of the 1974 original), has such a healthy sense of self. Certainly that delusional nature goes a long way in informing the mindset of Season of the Witch.
This wannabe epic starts with an awkward series of battles spanning from 1332 to 1344. Perhaps they should be considered Crusades 9.5, but it doesn’t really matter. The battle sequences aren’t all that spectacular; they have the look of a low-res 300, with oodles of CGI knights battling in a virtual world while the real humans are covered from head to toe in helmets, hoods, and robes, making it impossible to discern who’s who in the action. That, in turn, makes it mighty difficult to care about what’s happening.
Nonetheless, the story staggers along, with crusaders Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) seeking to restock and regroup as deserters of the army of God. Unfortunately for them, they pick a city that’s been ravaged by the plague and with a Cardinal (Lee) who, while on his death bed, sends them on one more quest: Take an accused witch to a far-off abbey so she can be tried, her powers removed, and the plague ended.
And so it is the two deserters join a priest, a soldier of God, a swindler, a witch, and an altar boy in pursuit of their epic quest (on a $40 million budget).
To be fair, there is one fairly involving sequence involving the crossing of a rickety bridge, but that’s the ultimate in this movie’s action. Otherwise, the journey through dark and treacherous terrain suffers from a complete lack of energy and is filled with goofy, stilted dialogue, the kind of tone-deaf dialogue over which the ghostly clacking of the writer’s keyboard can easily be heard.
Well, okay. There is one great line: “We’re going to need more holy water.” Take that as Dominic Sena’s shorthand way of remaking Jaws.
Rise a Knight
Season of the Witch was originally set to open March 19, 2010. Letting it age another year hasn’t made it any tastier.
It’s never a good thing when, while a changeling runs around spooking knights in the middle of the night, thoughts drift to how it is everybody has such nice, pearly whites. The clothes are dirty and worn, but damn they must still manage to brush their teeth at least twice a day.
And when the mismatched group of crusaders finally makes it to the abbey, the first question is: Would that abbey really have nice, clear glass windows in 1344? Maybe... possibly... perhaps. But if the movie was more involving, the thought wouldn’t have had time to pop up.
Given the lifeless journey, it’s not really a surprise the conclusion, which revolves around a battle with the devil, is more silly than scary. Regardless of the tone that indicate it’s supposed to be horrifying, or at least a little hair-raising, the visuals are more like a Harryhausen knockoff than a real dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.
No doubt Nicolas Cage agreed to this movie in order to pay down his legendary debt problems. But why did Christopher Lee subject himself to this less-than-Hammer horror? What the hell?