Numerous writers have attempted to pin down the categories that Nic Cage’s varied performances fall into. An actor as likely to appear in an effects-laden B-movie as a carefully wrought masterpiece like Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, you can never quite predict what sort of performance Cage will turn in. Will it be the rampaging, crazy Cage of Snake Eyes or Bad Lieutenant? Will he give us the gloomy-eyed seriousness of Leaving Las Vegas? Or will it be the broad, stoic Cage of his mainstream action movies, The Rock or Con Air?
In the case of Season Of The Witch, the answer is none of the above. More than any other film I can think of, Cage drawls his way somnambulantly through this period potboiler, displaying none of the charisma that lit up the otherwise disposable National Treasure, or even Lee Tamahori’s misfiring sci-fi, Next.
And so, to the plot. It’s an alternate universe Dark Ages, and there’s a virulent plague spreading across some unspecified European kingdom in which everyone speaks with an American accent. Desperate to stop the spread of disease, a dying man of the cloth (Christopher Lee, struggling to move his lips beneath heavy rubber facial appliances) orders weary ex-Crusader Cage to assemble a crack team of character actors to escort a caged witch (Claire Foy) to a remote monastery. Once there, the witch will be hurled into the crack of Mount Doom and Sauron will be defeated. Or something like that.
The plot really doesn’t matter. What we’ve actually got is a road movie with beards and gowns, with Cage, his sidekick Felson (Ron Perlman) and a range of European actors (Misfits‘ Robert Sheehan as the dashing young Kay, This Is England‘s Stephen Graham as a greasy guide) who provide exposition, eye candy or comic relief.
Along the way, there are a few action set pieces, including a rather limp fight with computer-generated wolves and a familiar yet quite well handled trip across a rickety rope bridge.
It’s a daft, derivative film, and would probably be quite good fun had the tone been right. Unfortunately, Cage tackles his role with the dreary resignation mentioned earlier, and director, Dominic Sena, handles the proceedings with bland efficiency. Even Ron Perlman, who’s normally reliably brilliant in everything, is given little to do other than occasionally wave a broadsword and mutter about ale.
Shortly before the film was made, Cage had expressed his love for the movies of Roger Corman and Hammer, but Season Of The Witch is more like a cheaper rendition of Lord Of The Rings than anything starring Vincent Price or Christopher Lee in their prime, and of the surprising number of period films that have emerged over the last few months, Season Of The Witch is the least convincing one I’ve seen so far.
Christopher Smith’s Black Death told a similar story far more effectively, generated more laughs and tension, and did so on a much leaner budget. Annoyingly, far more people went to see Season Of The Witch at the cinema.
A movie that attempts to please everyone, with epic battles vaguely like the ones in 300, moments of mild horror, Tolkien-like swordplay, and moments of buddy comedy repartee (there’s even a line that references Jaws), Season Of The Witch emerges as an unpalatable cauldron of elements that refuse to coalesce into an entertaining film.
Had Cage been somehow coaxed into giving the kind of eye rolling, barking performance of Bad Lieutenant, Vampire’s Kiss, or even the otherwise abominable Wicker Man remake, Season Of The Witch could have been a joyous B-movie romp.
Instead, what we get is a surprisingly tepid road movie clad in leather and chain mail, which brings us the gloom of Black Death without the intelligence, and the stupidity of 300 without the adrenaline. Season Of The Witch‘s tagline proudly trumpets, “All hell will break loose.” If only this were true.
The disc contains little more than a theatrical trailer and a flimsy ‘making-of’ featurette, which shows some of the movie’s location shooting in picturesque areas of northern Europe, and an interview with Cage, in which he describes his character as a forward-thinking philosopher. Oddly, Cage decided to play the part with the blank-faced exhaustion of a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman instead.
Season Of The Witch will be released on 27th June and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.