Nicolas Cage reunites with his Gone in 60 Seconds directorDominic Sena for the supernatural action-thriller Season of the Witch, which finally hits theaters this weekend after sitting on the shelf for almost two years. (Beware of some spoilers.)
Cage stars as a medieval knight named Behmen who, along with his comrade-in-arms Felson (Ron Perlman), have fought in the Crusades for well over a decade. War-weary and disenchanted with bloodletting for the Church, Behmen and Felson cut ties with their fellow knights and head off into the wilds of Europe.
During their journey home, Behmen and Felson enter the Palace at Marburg, whose inhabitants have been utterly devastated by the Plague. The Church elders (including Christopher Lee) blame their misfortune on an erratic girl (Claire Foy, whose character’s name is never revealed) they believe to be a witch.
Coerced into delivering this accused witch to a remote monastery for trial, Behmen and Felson are joined on their perilous quest by the priest Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), the aspiring knight Kay (Robert Sheehan), the aging knight Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen), and the group’s slippery guide, the traveling con man Hagamar (Boardwalk Empire‘s Stephen Graham).
Season of the Witch isn’t quite Jonah Hex or Little Fockers bad, but it’s one helluva shoddy way to start off the year in movies and yet another crummy entry in Nicolas Cage’s woeful post-Oscar filmography. The movie isn’t even as fun as it could have been had it been truly terrible; it’s just another mediocre supernatural thriller brought low by bad creative decisions. There’s a nifty idea in here about war-weary knights back in the service of a Church they no longer believe in, but it gets lost along the way.
The highest praise one can give the cast is that none of them embarrass themselves. Overall, Cage restrains himself save for one borderline campy moment, while Perlman delivers his lines with his usual gruff, “I really don’t give a crap anymore” sardonic attitude. Foy, apparently the missing link between Kristen Stewart and Katy Perry, has the toughest job as she must play a character who is supposed to keep us guessing about her guilt or innocence (that is until the movie soon makes it perfectly clear which side she’s on). Englishman Graham inexplicably speaks like hisBoardwalk character Al Capone throughout the movie.
Lack of logic is the most bedeviling thing here. Priests can only cast out demons by reading from rare ancient books. Why not commit the book’s text to memory? They’re priests who have memorized the entire Bible in Latin. Know your lines so that you can keep the show going should the demons burn your books! At another point, a character busts his ass digging multiple graves even though we just saw that one of the deceased had been reduced to ashes. And how’s about shackling your prisoner so she can’t escape on foot?
The story’s main emotional conflict — that Behmen wants to save this accused witch in order to atone for the innocent life he took during the Crusades — doesn’t hold up when you’re asked to believe that Behmen and Felson, perhaps the most fortunate Crusaders ever to survive over a decade of constant warfare, only spilled innocent blood once during all those years of carnage. Nobody in the Crusades was that lucky!
Season of the Witch isn’t an awful movie; it’s watchable in that late night cable sort of way, but it’s painfully dopey. Even the effects are merely adequate. Ditto the now cliche Gladiator/300-style battle scenes. At least the gloomy European countryside looks nice. I can’t believe this movie (finally) got released, but the superiorSolomon Kane is still without a U.S. distributor.