Review: 'Season of the Witch' Burns Excitement on its Idle Stake
by Jeremy Kirk
January 9, 2011
Idle hands are notoriously the Devil's play things. Idle films can be something just as sad. Take Season of the Witch for instance. It's not particularly a horrible movie. It's focused. Dominic Sena shoots each scene with adequate measure even if the Gone in 60 Seconds director still has little to say with his technique. The acting is less than par even for Nicolas Cage, but there are fun turns by Ron Perlman and the rest of the cast.
Unfortunately, for long stretches of this horror thriller, the energy has been completely cast out, and the film seems to want to just sit there. Kind of like a "is she or isn't she" witch who spends much of the film's runtime just sitting in a wheeled cage. It's not exciting. It's never scary. Unfortunately, when the best thing you can say about a film is it isn't that bad, you realize quickly you're dealing with an underachiever. It doesn't strive for much, and it barely accomplishes even that.
Set in the 1300s, the film establishes its lead character early on. Two soldiers of the Crusades played by Cage and Perlman, who discover after years of hacking and slashing at "enemies" of God that maybe fighting on the side of the church isn't all that noble. "You ever get the feeling God has too many enemies," says Perlman's Felson before charging the battle field. The two don't stay in the command of God's army for long and choose to roam the land on their own.
At this point they come across a church in a land where the Black Plague is on a scourge. The priests of the church believe the plague to be the cause of a young woman played by Claire Foy. They order the two deserters to accompany a small group and the woman to a monastery where she will be given a "fair" trial and the truth of pestilence enveloping their world can finally be revealed.
There is an interesting story on the outskirts of the CG-laden and heavy thud of the film at hand. The idea of a witch being the cause of the Black Plague or even the men of that time believing said witch to be the cause speaks to heart of how sorcerery was really viewed. Unfortunately, with his pre-credit sequence, Sena and screenwriter Bragi F. Schut tell their audience right out that Season of the Witch takes place in a world where witchcraft and supernatural elements truly do exist. Any idea of mystery or subtle character establishment from that opening scene on is hung by the neck and cast into a river.
Sure, Season of the Witch would have been a better movie had it had a mystery at its heart instead of a road-trip through 14th century countrysides, but that's not the movie Sena made here. Instead, he chose the action set piece and computer generated excitement way of making his film. That's all fine and dandy if your execution is equally exciting. That's not the case with Season of the Witch. It's never quite boring. Each scene moves with a confident pace. At only 95 minutes in length, it never gets weighted down with trying to be anything too epic. Even with that run-time, the character, the secondary character to be certain, are given dimension and backstory. No one is paper thin even if the least interesting character in the entire film is Cage's Behmen.
Behmen is a man seeking redemption. He knows he has done wrong in the eyes of his God, and he feels giving this young girl a fair chance at proving herself will bring that redemption. It doesn't help that Cage charges through Behmen with all the clunkiness he can muster. The comradery between Behmen and Felson is present even if it isn't particularly forceful.
However, even with the film's commendable pacing and multi-dimensional characters, it never lifts itself off the ground of inertia. Laziness is a good word that comes to mind. Not even a scene that was probably exciting on paper such as a trek over a rickety rope bridge pulls the excitement level to satisfactory heights.
By the time Season of the Witch falls into its climax, the audience has checked out. The CG-heavy finale brings out a few interesting elements, particularly for horror fans. You can never go wrong seeing Ron Perlman head-butt a demon and zombie monks always seem to do the trick. It isn't spoiling much to say Season of the Witch's final act devolves into computer generated madness. That mystery that had been hung and flung into the river quickly gets fished out, dried off, and burned at the stake of Hollywood indulgence. Cage screams with all the intensity of a door mouse. His hair has more to say in each scene than he does. And by the time the credits roll on Season of the Witch, you find yourself struggling to even remember moments from the first half.
Season of the Witch is not a train wreck. It isn't an insulting piece of movie making, but that's what goes for a compliment when you're dealing with Sena, a director whose sense of nuance and flavor is Christopher Lee under boils of heavy makeup. The film won't be remembered, but it also won't end up on any "worst of the year" lists. It rides that middle-of-the-road…er road and never pushes itself with any sense of adequate might. Like the ashes on a pyre, Season of the Witch blows away with little ease, and no one seems left with any desire to put the pieces back together again.
Jeremy's Rating: 5 out of 10