“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Dominic Sena / Actors: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Stephen Graham, Ulrich Thomsen ... / DVD released 2011-06-27 at Momentum Pictures Home Ent / Features of the DVD: PAL „
* Prices may differ from that shown
I used to consider Nicolas Cage to be one of my favourite actors on the basis of Con Air and Face Off, two films I loved from my mid-teens. It seems though that his choice of roles has been steadily on the decline for a little while now and although I know his films aren't as good anymore, I still seem to watch them in a similar vein to the movies featuring Steven Seagal. That's how it came to pass that I was watching Season Of The Witch on Sky plus yesterday as I still live with a glimmer of hope that Cage is going to return to the standard of those past glories, but this wasn't to be it either.
The Witching Hour
Having grown disillusioned by the Crusades Behman and Felson desert and begin to head home knowing they run the risk of facing arrest. Upon their return they find that their homeland has been ravished by a plague and soon are captured by the local army. The church are blaming the plague on a Witch held with the two Knights in the Cities jail. For Behman and Felson they have a choice to make, remain imprisoned and face charges of desertion or help to transport the suspected Witch to a remote abbey in the hills where she is due to stand trial.
Just recounting the plot for the movie for the purposes of this review makes me realise just how bad a premise it actually was. The movie was written by Bragi F. Schut, a writer I wasn't previously familiar with and after this hopefully wont come across again. The script is very straightforward and the characters are poorly developed with a very slow and ordinary dialogue. Had the plot been a little sharper this might have worked as a premise but what the writer seems to have missed is any real sense of reason within his characters and their actions.
It's a shame as I'd quite liked a couple of director Dominic Sena's previous work. He does a reasonable job with a bad script but even the direction at times seems to lose its direction. The film looks impressive but there are some really major moments of poor lighting and poor filming choices that really detract a bit further from the quality of the movie. I'm afraid that other than some rather impressive looking plague victims and the scenes at the end the film offers very little.
What Were They Thinking?
Having seen the finished product it is perhaps easier to judge than it would have been for Nick Cage and Ron Pearlman, but you do have to wonder at what point they thought this would be a good movie. At least Cage had worked with the director before on Gone in 60 Seconds but Pearlman has no such luxury. Both actors look particularly uncomfortable in the lead roles and the performances from both of them feel quite forced. The characters don't really give either actor a chance to really show what they can do and in all honesty it's a waste of what could have been a good leading cast.
In support of the two leads there are a couple of reasonable performances but on the whole even the supporting cast struggled. It looked as though Ulrich Thomsen as Eckhart was going to develop into a decent character, but his involvement in the story is far shorter than it should have been. The only person to really come out of this with any real credit is Claire Foy, who plays the suspected Witch. I thought she was really the best of a bad bunch and looked and acted the part quite well, however with only one real plus point to the whole film it was destined to struggle.
Don't Waste Your Time
It would be fair to say that if there was anyway I could get back the 95 minutes I wasted in watching this movie then I would do so without hesitation. The plot is pedestrian and doesn't really come to live, whilst the performances are stilted and uncomfortable. The only plus points about the whole film are the special effects and Claire Foy. It's a shame because it's a sign of the further decline of Cage as an actor as his choice of roles seems to be getting worse. If you're considering watching Season of the Witch, my honest recommendation would be, don't bother.
(FILM ONLY REVIEW)
A medieval horror fantasy starring Nick Cage?...are you interested? My first thought was... maybe. I know Cage has had a rather chequered history recently in choosing his film projects but when he makes a good film it is very good so he's always someone whose work I would bother checking out.
We go back to the 14th century a time of crusades and a time of plague. Behmen a crusader knight and his lifelong friend Felson both disenchanted with the crusades return to Europe only to find a landscape devastated by disease and fear. On being accused of desertion and facing the death penalty the two knights strike a deal with the local cardinal and agree to help transport a young girl accused of witchcraft to a remote monastery in the mountains. She is believed to be responsible for the plague and she has to be taken to the monastery in order for the monks to perform a ritual using an ancient tome containing the only known incantation that can rid her of her possession and remove the pestilence from the land. With the help of swindler turned guide, a priest and two of the Cardinal's own men, Behmen and Felson begin what proves to be a dangerous journey which could be their last.
The first thing to say is that this film has an impressive cast. Not only do we get the mercurial Cage but also Ron Perlman who always gives an interesting performance in whatever standard of film he's in. Fine British character actor Stephen Graham who played the psychotic skinhead in 'This Is England' and more recently in 'Boardwalk Empire' also does a good turn as the thief turned guide. The British connection is further enforced by Stephen Campbell Moore as the twitchy priest entrusted with destroying the witch and Claire Foy an up and coming young actress who made a huge impression as the diminutive 'Little Dorrit' in 2008 and once again impresses here with a rather different style of performance. Lastly we get a cameo from one of the all-time greats of British cinema Christopher Lee as the sickly Cardinal sporting some gruesomely excellent facial make up.
Despite the cast it is probably fair to say that the whole doesn't quite live up to the sum of its parts. The film looks good, the early scenes set in the crusades containing many fight sequences are well choreographed with the obligatory amount of blood and gore although the meticulous places and dates given before each battle become as little tiresome especially since they are totally historically inaccurate. Once the action moves over to Europe the bleak plague ravaged landscapes are well staged and the look of the medieval villages, all filth and squalor are believable. The cinematographer, Amir Mokri does a great job of disguising the magnificent Austrian Alps with mud, rain and peasants. The director Dominic Sena slowly builds up the tension (maybe too slowly) as the party begins their treacherous journey to the isolated monastery and the eerie atmosphere increases as strange events take place. We are constantly wondering if the girl they have as a prisoner is really a witch or simply an innocent girl being used by the church as a scapegoat for the unexplainable plague that affects the land.
What didn't work for me was Nicholas Cage as the itinerant Knight, doubting his faith in the church and in God. I don't think Cage does 'medieval' well enough to convince in the role, in effect this part is very similar to that played by Sean Bean in 'Black Death' and although the story in this film is probably better, Bean was more convincing.
The other aspect that left me slightly bemused was the dialogue often slipping into modern phraseology like "We're gonna need more holy water" and also "Did you see the priest's face? Looked like someone pissed in his holy water", which coupled with an American accents doesn't sound good in a medieval romp. This is a pity since Bragi Schut's story has got potential and if handled right would have been an intriguing medieval thriller of the type 'The Name of the Rose' did so well. As it is you feel the writer never quite made his mind up what kind of film he wanted. It is part medieval romp, part horror, part fantasy and part road/buddy movie...too many parts I think.
As always with this kind of film nowadays we do get a lot of CGI although it never gets intrusive at least not until the end. We see some menacing Dire Wolves along the way as well as some scary zombie demons, with some good set piece action scenes.
The film didn't do that well at the box office and got slaughtered by the critics, while it is not a classic, not even a classic of this genre; it's nowhere near as bad as some of the reviews it got. Now apparently Dominic Sena stated that he was inspired by Ingmar Bergman's 'The Seventh Seal' (1957) a classic film that describes a the story of a disillusioned Knight coming home from the crusades and encountering Death along the road. I think this lofty comparison might have put a few 'critical' backs up and earned this film more scorn and derision than it deserved. Don't misunderstand me 'Season of the Witch' is not in the same class as 'The Seventh Seal', while the Swedish classic is an existential exploration of man's place in the world '...Witch' is simply as mediocre horror fantasy and comparisons beyond the similar setting should not be made.
CAST & THINGS
Stephen Campbell Moore...Debelzaq
Ulrich Thomsen ...Eckhart
Claire Foy...The Girl
Robert Sheehan ...Kay
Christopher Lee ...Cardinal D'Ambrois
Directed by Dominic Sena, writer Bragi F Shut.
Runtime: 95 min
The film carries a UK certificate 15 mainly for violence, gore and a few scary moments. I think in this case the 15 certificate is more than adequate.
This is mixed bag; I admit that I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would after having read the reviews for it. You do need to suspend belief when thinking of Cage and Pearlman has medieval knights their dialogue and beliefs are far too modern for that. Hampered a little by a story that can't make up its mind what it wants to be and the oddly staged start of the film in the crusades it is difficult to say that the film succeeded in all departments but if you enjoy a bit of medieval hokum you could do a lot worse than this.
'The Season of the Witch' can be bought from Amazon UK for £4.99 including delivery.
Recommended?...yeah why not!
© Mauri 2011