Review: SEASON OF THE WITCH

Season of the Witch is Almost. But Not Quite.

It’s almost as bad as any Uwe Boll craptastic b-movie schlock. But not quite.
It’s almost as “epic” as 300 or Prince of Persia. But not quite.
It’s almost as schlocky as any Hammer film. But not quite.

It’s got all of the ingredients for a super blockbuster summer tentpole film. But it’s not quite there. NICOLAS CAGE (Behman) and RON PERLMAN (Felson) star as knights of the Crusades in the 14th century, friends who have seen more than enough battle in the name of God. After being arrested as deserters, they are tasked by the Cardinal (CHRISTOPHER LEE) to transport a girl suspected of being a witch (newcomer CLAIRE FOY) to the monastery that houses the only remaining copy of the Book of Solomon. There, the book will be used to rid the girl of her witchy woman ways, and free the land from the dread of the Black Plague.

See? Knights, the Crusades, witches, monks, holy war, plague, the boy who would be knight… it’s got a little of everything.

The girl is a manipulative schemer, and the script starts to play with that, but gives it away almost too soon. You know something’s up, but you’re in the dark about what, exactly, is her secret. Claire Foy does a credible turn as the “witch” girl, even though it looks like she was cast partly to capitalize on her resemblance to Kristen Stewart. And ROBERT SHEEHAN is perfectly cast as the altar boy who follows the expedition in an attempt to become a knight (which was almost surely lifted from The Cowboys).

There’s plenty of double-dealing and dialogue that’s obviously trying to lead the audience down one path instead of another, but it doesn’t quite get you all the way, even though the ending is an unexpected and welcome twist on the traditional witch trial story.

Perlman is great as the wise-cracking sidekick, and the time he and Cage spent in pre-production working on their backstory helps with their on-screen chemistry. Cage delivers his restrained style, not the over-the-top style. (With Cage, it’s usually one or the other.) And it’s a good choice here. The one spot where he goes over the top feels out of place.

io9 predicted this movie would either be “so bad it’s good” or would be “epic”. It’s neither. It feels like director Dominic Sena hesitated to bring everything to the mix. The battle scenes are fine – nothing too bloody, nothing too fancy, the expected undercranked Saving Private Ryan visual style that flavors every Hollywood battle scene nowadays… – but it doesn’t quite go all the way to sell any particular scene. It’s just enough, almost as if Sena was a tentative first time director. The actors give their performances with just enough energy and polish, but not enough to go either “epic” or “Uwe Boll epic”. It skates the middle, and I think that ultimately hurts the film. Someone was being held back in this project.

The script needed another pass. Some of the dialogue is clunky, giving it that “almost Uwe Boll” feel in some places. (What kind of a world do we live in where Uwe Boll’s pictures are a standard of measure now?) It should have gone bigger and more stylized like the dialogue in the Star Wars trilogy – the real one, not the pretend one – or it should have gone the other way and been simpler. Again, it’s a symptom of a story that doesn’t quite know what to do with itself.

BUT, having said all of that, it’s a fun ride. Locations are great, it’s paced well, the arcs are all there and complete, and it wraps up nicely in the gilded bow. Solid performances from the entire cast. Make-up effects on the plague victims are just right, and the CGI is adequate for what’s essentially a drive-in B-movie in summer tentpole’s shoes. In the end, you know you did OK as a filmmaker when the audience applauds. This should have a decent run.

Go see it. But maybe not on a full stomach.

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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