A film review by Craig J. Koban
January 11, 2011
SEASON OF THE WITCH
2010, PG-13, 95 mins.
2010, PG-13, 95 mins.
Behmen: Nicolas Cage / Felson: Ron Perlman / The Girl: Claire
Foy / Kay: Robert Sheehan / Cardinal: Christopher Lee
One thing is definitely frightening about SEASON OF THE WITCH, and it ain't the witchcraft involved - it's Nicolas Cage's horribly stilted and wildly misshapen performance as a Christian knight of the Crusades.
Not only does the actor feel too oddly contemporary and mismatched for such a period piece and character, but he really suffers for how he brings out just about every mournful and dreadful element that has made some of his worst films of recent memory really stick out; namely, him sporting a ridiculously obvious rug, a detached sense of emotional connection to the character and material, and giving line readings that are uttered with only a scintilla of urgency and care required to garner a much-needed paycheck.
there ever been a more inconsistent actor of the last 20 years than Cage?
He can be such a magnetic and joyously unhinged performer
(see LEAVING LAS VEGAS, ADAPTATION, MATCHSTICK MEN, THE WEATHER MAN, THE
LORD OF WAR, and BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL - NEW ORLEANS to
name some), but he can also reduce himself rather effortlessly in
painfully mediocre roles (see BANGKOK
DANGEROUS, THE WICKER MAN, the NATIONAL TREASURE series, and GHOST
There is sometimes no sight more dreadful than to see a proven and
accomplished Oscar winning performer succumb to parts that are so pitifully
unchallenging and unfulfilling, and Cage's work in SEASON OF THE WITCH is no
Wigged out to the extreme, flat and monotone, and uttering his
regal and solemn lines with a period accent that never hits an authentic
tone at any waking second, Cage’s presence in SEASON OF THE WITCH
provides many unintentional laughs.
co-star, on the other hand, is Ron Pearlman, who embodies his role of the
crusading knight with considerably more delight and plausibility (plus, as
a physical specimen with a mug that looks like it was carved on the
battlefield, Pearlman more that meets this role’s basic requirements).
In the film Cage plays Behmen and Pearlman plays Felson, and
together they are two very close BFFs during the Crusades and engage in
years of bloody and protracted battles in God’s honor (which are
presented with the obligatorily hazy CGI extras numbering in the thousands that
never once looks convincing).
Yet, the boys finally have an epiphany…after 12-years of slashing
an pillaging their ways through the enemy…that mercilessly slaughtering
countless people does not serve the Lord very well.
They decide to ditch their religious duties.
Behmen and Felson secretly try to return home, they inadvertently come
across a decrepit and Black Death-afflicted kingdom that is ruled by the
local cardinal (a very decent Christopher Lee, unrecognizable under his
heavy plague makeup).
Within no time, the former knights are forced into servicing a
special request for the cardinal: they are to escort an imprisoned young
woman (newcomer Claire Foy) to a nearby city where she can be tried for the charge
The cardinal has his deeply rooted beliefs that the woman just may
have been the cause of the Black Death ravaging his kingdom and hopes, in
turn, that trying and murdering the girl will spare his lands from it.
and Felson begrudgingly agree to take on the task and are accompanied on
their long and arduous task by a overly anxious and witch fearing monk
(Stephen Campbell Moore), a wise-talking con artist (Stephen Graham) and a
young, determined, but inexperienced warrior (Robert Sheehan, who could
double Jay Baruchel any day of the week) that –
if you consider the perfunctory fate of nearly all young and inexperienced
youth characters that get in over their heads while joining the heroes on a
treacherous task - you just know will either be dead by the end
credits or be the savoir of everyone.
The group's nightmarish trek is beset by obstacles, like a teetering and
fragile rope bridge that separates two cliffs, a rabid squad of man-hungry
wolves, not to mention that very, very odd things seem to happen around
the young girl, who is locked away in a cage for most of the duration of
Not to spoil the ending, but let’s just say that by the time the
heroes reach their destination they make a ghastly discovery that greatly
impedes their ability to give the girl a trial…and then all hell breaks
OF THE WITCH was directed by the capable, but underachieving Dominic Sena, who made a real critical splash
oh-so-many years ago with his lauded 1993 crime/road picture KALIFORNIA
(still containing Brad Pitt’s most electrifying and disturbing
performance) and he has never really been the same filmmaker since (efforts like SWORDFISH and GONE IN 60 SECONDS confirm this).
At the least, Sena does make THE SEASON OF THE WITCH look decent
with modest filmmaking resources: the cinematography, costume and
production design are quite effectively and competently rendered,
especially considering the film’s relatively scant $40 million budget.
Pearlman, as stated, is a teeth-clenched, one-liner uttering, sword
slashing protagonist that provides the film with a point of interest as
far as the heroes are concerned.
Young Claire Foy, making her feature film debut, is effectual as
her duplicitous motivated character that seems both innocent and complicit
at the same time.
the film squanders some really tantalizing opportunities with the witch
Instead of the script engaging in a frisky and intriguing cat and
mouse mind game with the audience over whether or not the girl is either a
demonic witch or just a innocent and deeply frightened victim, the film
opts to telegraph itself a tad too obviously as to the girl’s real identity and
SEASON OF THE WITCH could have been a really memorizing journey to
take if it had more nerve with trusting the audience and playing up the
ambiguities of the girl’s condition, but it opts for a conclusion that
unravels in a predicable and outlandish fashion.
By the final climatic act, it appears that the film is less
concerned with supernatural powers and more with demonic possession and
becomes a visual effects heavy, third-rate EXORCIST.
we are dealt with the more laughable elements of the film, like its use of
anachronistic dialogue (I may be crazy, but I am sure that words like
"damn", "shit", and my personal favourite, "altitude" where ever freely used by
We are also given a weakly delivered verbal gag during a
particularly dicey moment that’s meant to be a nod to JAWS when
a priest breathlessly states, “We’re going to need more holy water.”
I personal would like to exorcise references to 30-plus-year-old
films that any modern film utilizes.
Furthermore, it’s sometimes really difficult to discern whether SEASON OF THE
WITCH is meant to be solemn, dreary, and terrifying or just a
semi-campy, schlock-induced exercise that seems drawn out of the legacy of
Hammer horror films.
On thing is for sure: SEASON OF THE WITCH is more sleep inducing and watch checking than it is intensely frightening and suspenseful. Beyond that, it’s kind of surprising how straight faced and serious the actors are amidst some of the sillier aspects of the unraveling narrative, almost to the point where the film would have been more agreeable and digestible if it just embraced it’s more hammy and preposterous B-horror underpinnings with more relish. Alas, SEASON OF THE WITCH is not really thrilling, not really scary, and not really memorable as far as horror/action pictures go. What it does contain – beyond some handsome production artifice – is a creaky and meandering story that fails to generate seat-squirming level of intrigue and tension.
However…beware of the horrors of Nic Cage’s wig and accent! Those things were lingeringly chilling, indeed.