A film review by Craig J. Koban November 9, 2015


2015, PG-13, 106 mins.


Vin Diesel as Kaulder  /  Rose Leslie as Chloe  /  Michael Caine as Dolan 36th /  Elijah Wood as Dolan 37th  /  Julie Engelbrecht as Witch Queen  /  Lotte Verbeek as Helena  /  Isaach de Bankolé as Schlesinger  /  Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as Belial  /  Bex Taylor-Klaus as Bronwyn  /  Allegra Carpenter as Fatima  /  Aimee Carrero as Miranda  /  Armani Jackson as Armani  /  Samara Lee as Little Girl  /  Stephanie Bertoni as Wall Street Witch  /  Inbar Lavi as Sonia

Directed by Breck Eisner  /  Screenplay by Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, and Burk Sharpless

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER is one of the most Vin Diesel-y Vin Diesel movies that I’ve seen in quite some time. 

He plays yet another in a long line of emotionally grim, stone cold faced, gravel voiced, and ruthlessly determined anti-heroes, but this time he’s immortal, which makes him all the more emotionally grim, stone cold faced, and ruthlessly determined.  

Beyond obvious sarcasm, Diesel at least understands his performance and range limitations and, for the most part, can make even the most unwatchable action films crackle with a modest amount intrigue.  THE LAST WITCH HUNTER is a centuries-spanning supernatural thriller that harnesses the actor’s particular brand of bass heavy vocal charm, but the whole film built around him and his character is so relentlessly expository that I became more listless than entertained by the whole affair.  Less flat footed and dull scripting would have greatly benefited this film, seeing as it does possess some instances of great visual flair and production design, but on a level of world building THE LAST WITCH HUNTER is a plodding and forgettable affair. 

The film at least has a fairly sensational – if not over directed and choppily edited -  opening sequence set 800 years ago, during which time a grizzled and battle hardened warrior Kaulder (Diesel) leads a ragtag and motley crew of monster hunters to rid the world of the vile Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht), who is revealed to be the one that actually caused the Black Death.  Even though Kaulder and his clan manage to gain victory over the extraordinarily powerful and dangerous witch, she nevertheless – just before she passes on – curses Kaulder with a spell of immortality (although the script never fully rationalizes why she does this in the first place).  Realizing the sheer enormity of the spell that’s been cast upon him, Kaulder prepares himself for the long hall, so to speak and we later catch up with Kaulder in the modern day…who still looks good for an 840-ish-year-old witch slayer. 



Through even more exposition we learn that Kaulder – while obviously staving off merciless boredom – has been working for hundreds of years for a secret underground society called The Axe and Cross, which is managed by Dolan the 36th (a criminally underused Michael Caine), a priest that’s about to retire and be taking over by – yup – Dolan the 37th (Elijah Wood, looking mostly confused and out of place here).  Kaulder not only has to deal with a Dolan greenhorn to train, but he now has to do so while investigating suspicious events that are plaguing his city (none of which ever seem to be noticed by the public at large, the police, news and social media, and so forth).  Things really go south when Kaulder finds Dolan the 37th has mysteriously been killed (or was he?), which leads him on a foot chase through the supernatural world that pinpoints the Witch Queen (now potentially resurrected) as the culprit.   Along the way he begrudgingly teams up with another good witch Chloe (Rose Leslie), who can tap into minds and see your dreams.  With more and more of the Witch Queen’s minions beginning to pop up and wreak havoc, Kaulder must use Chloe to enter his mind and help him remember a key memory that could give them all the advantage to stop the witch queen once and for all. 

There are so many dull scenes that typify THE LAST WITCH HUNTER where characters talk and talk…and talk…about their world, the uneasy alliance between humanity/witch hunters and witches, and the battle that’s waged between them for nearly a millennia that they seriously undermine the whole forward momentum of the film.  To be fair, films such as this require the audiences to be educated on the particulars of its universe, but so much time is wasted on the specifics of Kaulder’s daily business activities with his Dolans that it inspires boredom in viewers.  Kaulder is a strange character to begin with that’s never fully explored on any meaningful level.  The script never once taps into the hellish mental nightmare that being immortal would have on Kaulder’s psyche, but it does manage to have scenes of him using his gifts to, for example, flirt with and bed flight attendants.  A better film would have honed in on the wounded and beleaguered soul that is Kaulder, but this one doesn’t have the time or aptitude for that kind of thematic discourse. 

Diesel (also serving as producer) does fit into his weakly scripted role relatively well, even though it doesn’t place much demands on him.  I think that, deep down, he’s smart enough to know what kind of film he’s occupying and just, well, goes for it as best as he can.  He’s partnered up with the fetching and lively Rose Leslie (from GAME OF THRONES), who helps add a bit of colorful eccentricity to the film that it otherwise lacks.  She has a wide-eyed earnestness in the film that acts as a welcome foil to Diesel’s perpetually stoicism, even when the screenplay is replete with delegating her to a one note sidekick that the hero has to bark orders at all the time.  When will modern Hollywood films abandon rampant sexist action film clichés of the male hero telling his female companion “You can’t come with me, it’s too dangerous”?  Chloe is a mind reading witch that can tap into your dreams…she seems like she could handle herself in a battle if need be. 

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER is paradoxically arresting on a level of production design and visual effects and feels woefully artificially and soulless because of it.  This film frequently looks good, but CG is so laboriously used during many of the obligatory fight sequences that all the tension and suspense that should have been there is hopelessly AWOL.  More times than not, THE LAST WITCH HUNTER looks like a sub par hyperactive video game than a movie, as director Breck Eisner (who did make the very decent and underrated horror thriller remake THE CRAZIES) pummels viewers with fatiguing pixel-laced fakery.  Even the manner that he hyperactively cuts action sequences (sigh) renders many of them in indistinguishable and incoherent flourishes of dark blurs.  What is the point of building a world like this if you can’t see what’s happening on screen?  Diesel does look cool, though, swinging around his flaming sword, dealing out all sorts of monosyllabic witch bashing mayhem that only he could make interesting. 

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER contains a would-be shocking plot revelation that’s not so much shocking as it is insipid.  That, and it’s never fully detailed what the Witch Queen’s final plan of comeuppance is after centuries of remaining dormant and in hibernation.  Then, after all of this, the film – as far too many do these days – goes out of its way to methodically set up potential sequels as opposed to having a sense of strong closure that merely teases at the thought of sequels.  Ultimately, it’s hard to really care about THE LAST WITCH HUNTER: it’s a flashy, yet murky fantasy thriller that feels, more than it should, like one of those instantly disposable Vin Diesel-y placeholder films in-between FAST AND FURIOUS entries.  

Maybe there should be witches in the next FF installment?  I’d pay top dollar to see that. 

  H O M E