There was a moment while watching Seventh Son when I wondered to myself why the seventh son of the seventh son had to be the one that hunted witches. I couldn’t remember if anyone in the film had explained that, but then I realized I didn’t care anyway. Seventh Son, which was shot three years ago and has been the subject of panel presentations at Comic-Con for it seems longer than that, is exactly the kind of movie that it appears to be in the trailers: a generic fantasy would-be “epic” that wants so badly to be The Lord of the Rings — or least somewhere in that classic’s orbit — but ends up as both a hodgepodge and a poor imitation.
Nothing in this film carries even a spark of originality or inspiration, right down to one of the single worst performances I’ve ever seen Jeff Bridges give. This is now the fourth straight film (following True Grit, R.I.P.D., and The Giver) in which he’s played a grizzled, eccentric old mentor type with an exaggerated, gravelly voice, and his shenanigans here cross the line and plunge deep into self-parody territory. And the voice is the most laughable yet. Bridges plays Master Gregory, a “spook” whose job is slaying witches but who keeps losing apprentices to them (the most recent is Kit Harington, direct from the set of Game of Thrones without even a costume change). A witch slayer has to be the seventh son, etc., so the next one happens to be a block of wood named Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), whose family hands him over to Gregory because prophecy.
Gregory and Tom head out to prepare for the return of Mother Malkin (a slumming, camped-up Julianne Moore), an all-powerful witch whom Gregory once had a fling with and who has broken out of the cage that he locked her in decades ago. Mother is assembling a superteam of witches timed to the arrival in the sky of a blood moon, upon which she will do something to bring about — the apocalypse? An early winter? It’s never made clear. Neither is this movie’s geography, which seems to find Mother hanging out in the town that Gregory and Tom are supposed to be protecting while they’re out traveling through some admittedly pretty mountain scenery.
Where is Mother holed up? How does a pretty half-witch (Alicia Vikander), who Tom naturally falls in love with five minutes after they meet, seem to travel cross-country in seconds flat? The answers to these and other questions remain elusive as director Sergei Bodrov serves up one CG-heavy action sequence after another before you even get a chance to think about how insipid this all is. There are already plenty of cheap-looking monsters in the film, but the script (by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight) even throws in a giant troll-like creature for yet another superfluous battle scene that does nothing to advance the already lazy story.
There’s no attempt at world or character building here. It takes place in some anonymous, medieval fantasy world, without anyone even bothering to put anything in some sort of context. Everything looks left over from Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters or Snow White and the Huntsman, and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel has shot the whole thing in some sort of hazy filter that made me take off my (wholly unnecessary) 3D glasses twice because I thought the thing was going out of focus. But that serves, in a way, as a metaphor for the whole affair.
Seventh Son really comes across as a dreadful example of movie as “product.” It is empty, soulless, loaded with over-directed and overstuffed action that studio suits think is the only tool they can use to keep distracted teens in their seats and off their phones, and borrows shamelessly and artlessly from other movies that have heart or even just a pulse. It allows two often brilliant veteran actors in Bridges and Moore to indulge in their worst impulses while hamming it up in front of green screens, and props up two bland, barely emoting hotties in Barnes and Vikander as its young leads whose lack of chemistry and charisma is palpable.
The movie is based on a book by Joseph Delaney called The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (known as The Spook’s Apprenticein the UK), the first in a series (of course) titled The Wardstone Chronicles. While I haven’t read the book, I’ve read enough about it to understand that the movie departs pretty drastically from the text (Tom is 12 years old in the novel). I hope that the book is better than the movie, because I couldn’t imagine reading a novel as generic as this. Bodrov (who is actually a two-time Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film!) exhibits no personality or even point of view in his first American production, but that’s probably hard to do when the movie itself has neither. In the end, the title is all too appropriate, because Seventh Son plays like a seventh-generation copy of some much better film made years ago.
Seventh Son opens in theaters Friday (February 6).