Mark Reviews Movies

SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011)

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dominc Sena

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Stephen Campbell Moore, Stephen Graham, Ulrich Tomsen, Claire Foy, Robert Sheehan, Christopher Lee

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content)

Running Time: 1:35

Release Date: 1/7/11


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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 6, 2011

Stop me if you've heard this one. A priest, an altar boy, two Crusaders, and a con artist walk toward an abbey with a suspected witch in tow.

Season of the Witch is supposed to be funny, right? With a set up like that, multiple scenarios lifted straight out of Monty Python (and a few that the troupe would have wished they came up with), and a seemingly constant stream of one-liners that undermine whatever more dramatic sense of dark adventure the movie dabbles in ("There is no hope here, only the Plague," "We're going to need more holy water," and a pause of such length after the first word of a request that would have made Pinter uncomfortable), there is no way any person of rational intelligence could read Bragi F. Schut's screenplay without recognizing that here is a comedy.

Yet director Dominic Sena or some tampering studio executive have decided that we need a more highbrow approach to a story where two deserting knights from the Crusades come across a town encircled by a massive murder of crows and don't think twice that something might be wrong down there. If only they had common sense, the whole affair could have been avoided.

But no, Behman of Blybrook (Nicolas Cage, speaking with an accent that involves speeding up consonant sounds and sporting a mighty finely styled goatee for a man who's spent over a decade killing the enemies of the Church)—I kid you not about the name—and his trusty partner Felson (Ron Perlman, whose character's backstory is given as a joke), who have left the Crusades after one slaughter too many in an eleven-year montage of slow-motion sword-swinging, just have to go down to that town. There they discover the Black Plague has overtaken the populace and that a young girl (Claire Foy, sporting a sinister smirk at almost every turn that gives away the ambiguity game), believed to be a Black Witch, is blamed for the whole situation.

Take her to abbey that lies across the scenic chasm with the rickety, old rope bridge and through the pleasantly named Forest of Wormwood, says the town's cardinal (Christopher Lee, sporting a mighty bulbous pus-filled globe above his right eye and then dying). They do, bringing Hagamar the Swindler (Stephen Graham, and please stop laughing about the character name), Eckhart the Other Knight (Ulrich Thomsen, and see they aren't all bad), Kay the Altar Boy (Robert Sheehan), the Debelzaq the Priest (Stephen Campbell Moore, and yes, that one is pretty damn silly) with them.

It is an adventure in episodes: Wherein the altar boy proves his worth as an agile warrior, wherein the witch influences one character to blindly run into the sword of another of the party who has dumbly held it at chest level, wherein the survivors must battle evil wolves (You can tell because their faces shift to a hairless scowl, and they turn entirely digital) in the foggy Forest of Wormwood, and wherein the situational irony of the plot is that the girl is not one wrongly placed, mystical projection of evil but another.

The climax involves a copy of the Book of Solomon, which can stop one form of evil but which could be great power in the hands of another type (and, no, don't argue with the absent logic of that conceit), possessed monks and flying imp-like things, and a fight with a flying demon that most closely resembles a backyard wrestling match. They have swords, and the demon can create fire. Why, then, do they run around grappling and pushing each other?

Before that, though, is much ridiculousness. There are a few moments in which bodies are not dead yet, leading to reach-out-and-grab-you moments (They start early during the useless prologue featuring the trial of a trio of witches—one who is not yet dead projectile vomits while the other gets revenge). Characters' attitude toward the witch-but-not-really girl change on a lark. The sets and locations are dim, dank, and drab, continuing the sense that people heard Dark Ages and curses and witches without really reading the script.

I nearly forgot to mention the appearance of a group of self-flagellating men in Season of the Witch. If you must add to the unintentional comedy of this scene, imagine them chanting in Latin. I don't think you'll have to, though.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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