Film Review – Season of the Witch
While sitting through the duration of Season of the Witch (2011), I couldn’t help but look at actor Nicolas Cage with curiosity and fascination. This is an actor that has had the most peculiar of careers. One thing is for sure: he is a very courageous and unapologetic actor. He is unafraid to take a character to the most extreme levels; he does not have time to worry about being subtle. The result is a career that has gone from great high points, even winning an Oscar, to very terrible low points, in films that aren’t even considered B pictures, more like C or D pictures. What is it that compels Cage to take roles in movies that are well below his caliber? What is it that attracts him to a project that you can tell is bad from a mile away?
This is not a good film, not in the least. It is a drab, uninteresting, unexciting film that should have been fun, but wasn’t. Perhaps it was entertaining in the way that only bad movies are, where you laugh with your friends at just how terrible the movie really is. Unfortunately, director Dominic Sena did not take the film to the full campiness he could have, and as a result the film falls short of any kind of real enjoyment. Which brings me back to Nicolas Cage. As I watched the film, I looked at his face, and wondered exactly what the heck he was thinking when he agreed to star in it. As he hopped around in medieval armor, his hair long and scraggily, speaking in Shakespearean-lite dialogue, with an accent he doesn’t even attempt to change to fit the time frame, I wondered if he thought to himself “this was a mistake.” If at any moment during the filmmaking process, he rethought his decision, and realized that he has more talent than the work he chooses, and could instead be doing something truly worthwhile. Perhaps that’s just wishful thinking.
The story takes place during the crusades of the 14th century. Two knights, Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman), fight heroically for their country throughout the land. Only after more than a decade do they question the morale of their mission. Let me repeat that: after more than 10 years of killing and violence, do they stop and think that “maybe” this isn’t the best thing to be doing with their lives. Returning, they find their home devastated by a terrible plague. According to the church, the reason for the disease is an evil sorcery, and the source of the magic is that of a powerful young witch (Claire Foy). Behmen and Felson are ordered to transport the captive to a remote monastery, where the local monks will perform a special ritual to rid the girl of her powers and save the land from the plague. They are accompanied by the likes of a priest (Stephen Campbell Moore), another knight (Ulrich Thomsen), a guide (Stephen Graham), and a young man looking for adventure (Robert Sheehan). Together, the rag-tag group will face the treacherous landscape, the animals of the wild, and the mysterious influence of the girl, as they make their way to their destination.
You may be asking yourself this question: if the so-called “witch” is so powerful, why doesn’t she just bust her way out of her wooden cage? It’s a little difficult to believe that a witch with immense magical ability would be held down by a couple of guys with swords and arrows. Actually, the film attempts to answer this very question, but the answer is so silly and unbelievable that you actually want to slap yourself for trying to find some sense of comprehension from this barely existent story. This is only one of the many issues that the movie had. The look of the film had a muted and stilted color palette, which flattened any kind of spark or life that the images could have had. The CGI was the worst I’ve seen in a major movie release in a long time. All of the generated imagery looked as if it were transported directly from a video game; from the mean-looking wolves, to the large number of army soldiers, to the very look of the sky, nearly everything looked like it had a plastic shell. In particular, the climax scene where Behmen and Felson fight off a hoard of evil monks and demons appeared so fake-looking that it seemed it was made from technology straight from 1994.
The script felt as though it was trying to imitate Shakespeare and failed miserably. Perhaps it’s the casting, but I could not make myself believe that Nicolas Cage or Ron Perlman would ever, ever, ever, talk in that Old-English sort of fashion. In particular, Ron Perlman, whose non-accent, acting, and demeanor appeared to be a less interesting version of his Hellboy performance, was completely unconvincing. It seemed as though both Cage and Perlman simply walked on to set, spouted their lines with no rehearsal, picked up their paychecks, and walked out. Throughout the screening that I attended, I overheard the crowd snickering amongst themselves as they listened to the dialogue that wasn’t meant to be funny, but was. The biggest laugh came when, after witnessing the massive demon they were about to face, Stephen Campbell Moore’s character spouted the soon-to-be classic line “We’re going to need more holy water.”
I believe in Nicolas Cage. I think in the right hands of a capable director, Cage can deliver a performance worthy of note; it’s been done before, and I’m sure it’ll happen again. But it’s a two-way street, and hopefully he’ll come to grips with himself and learn how to pick a project more wisely; it’s ok to say “no” sometimes. Season of the Witch is a forgettable film. At only an hour and a half, I found myself getting impatient with it to finally conclude. What’s worse is that the film wasn’t bad enough to make me angry, it wouldn’t allow me the pleasure of being passionate about it; it simply exists as an entity. Just in case you wondering, my recommendation is that you skip this one. There are far more interesting and engaging films out there, wouldn’t you want to spend your precious time and money watching those instead?
Final Grade: C-