For a lot of people, 2010 will be a year that’s mostly remembered for its consistent string of disappointing blockbusters, but for me it was a year which really allowed lower budget and independent movies to shine. I had the fortune to review several of them, including Solomon Kane and Black Death, both comparable to Season Of The Witch in terms of their strong British casts and bleak forays into the world of witchcraft and sorcery, a genre which I can never get enough of.
Consequently, I’ve been waiting for Season Of The Witch ever since I first heard about it, especially as it chose to combine two of my favourite things: the fantasy genre and one Nicolas Cage.
I’ve loved The Cage for many years, but sadly, haven’t written that much about him. All you need to know is that, even in the occasional bad film, I can almost always find something to enjoy in his performance. It’s a great shame that people tend to let a handful of his average films drag an incredibly varied career down, though I do understand that, like any actor, his appeal won’t be universal.
However, with the inventively fun Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the superb Kick Ass and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans all appearing last year, the time has never been better to join the Cult of Cage. It’s a great shame, then, that the only thing I’d recommend about Season Of The Witch is that you avoid it.
Things start promisingly with an opening scene that seems to imply that the film we’re about to watch is going to be a black horror comedy, with almost an Evil Dead sensibility towards the portrayal of witches and the occult.
Next, we are treated to a Crusader Cage montage in the vein of any good, old fashioned action buddy movie set during the 1300s (yes, you read that right), as we see Cage, as Behmen and his brother in arms, Felson, played by Ron Perlman, slashing their way through a multitude of holy wars, quipping and guzzling ale as they go.
Behmen then makes a bit of a faux pas involving a sword and quits fighting for the church, as the film switches tone again and tries to become a kind of repentant drama, for a while anyway.
The random jumps in genre and mood are, unfortunately, the only consistent part of the film, as it utterly fails to know what it wants to be and commits one of the worst cinematic crimes: being dull.
I still can’t quite believe that it’s possible to make a film with Nic Cage, as a knight with a sword, and a witch, boring, but somehow it’s happened.
The main crux of the story involves Behmen and Felson escorting the alleged witch to monks for her trial. You’ll know this if you’ve seen the trailer, a journey which you’d assume to be filled with danger and adventure, yes? No. I’m not even sure whether this counts as a spoiler or not (so skip to the next paragraph if you’re worried, but the journey involves this: wolves and a old rope bridge. That’s it).
I wouldn’t even have minded as much if the sparse set pieces were filmed with any style or excitement, but, on average, the film’s effects look considerably cheaper than Solomon Kane’s, while the slight gloss to most scenes robs them of any authenticity or grit.
Witch also fails to elicit any reaction from its depictions of deformed plague victims, which is quite a feat, especially when the rest of the film is a mostly bloodless affair. It’s as if it doesn’t even know what rating and audience it’s aiming for either.
While the cast do the best with what they have, in terms of a wasted script opportunity, the blame really has to fall on to director Dominic Sena’s shoulders. Here is a man who has now made, not one, but two average-to-bad Cage films (the other being Gone In 60 Seconds), which, combined with the tepid mess that was Swordfish, makes a third strike in my book.
In Season Of The Witch he has failed to capitalise on any asset given to him, with the action scenes being poorly shot and awfully edited, as even the most mundane of movements are difficult to see. (Even a setup that could potentially involve the undead is wasted.) It’s like Sena has watched a few scenes from a handful of fantasy films and then lazily copied them, without any understanding of the genre, making watching this film seem like a ropey ‘best of’ compilation.
Even the characters are text book clichés, with the repentant and soulful hero, his drinking/womanizing best friend, the young upstart keen to prove his worth, the suspect priest, the troubled knight with a dead family, and the cowardly con man. It really does feel like the script had only one draft, written by someone who’d seen Krull twenty years ago and then tried to rewrite it by memory, only they’d forgotten all the good parts.
I really, really tried to love the film, too, sometimes placating myself by just concentrating on my unadulterated love for Nicolas Cage, who, for the enthusiasts amongst you, only shouts one line and spends the rest of the time caught in a similar performance to his Cameron Poe in Con Air. Only without the memorable one-liners, or the interludes of heroic violence.
I held out hope right up until the finale, which then also miraculously failed to elicit any kind of emotion, tension or excitement, only adding a final insult when it attempts to pretend that it contains a twist, which it doesn’t. In fact, it undoes what little good there had been in the movie’s concept.
It breaks my heart to have to rate the film so lowly, especially after waiting for it for so long, and though I appreciate that this review will read like the film deserves a one star rating, the cast (with nods to Stephen Campbell Moore, Claire Foy and Misfits‘ Robert Sheehan) save it from being unwatchable.
If Drive Angry lets me down, expect tears.
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