Zombos Says: Good (in spite of itself)
There is a lot to dislike about Season of the Witch. For one, the disenchanted knights awol from the Crusades, Felson and Behmen (Ron Perlman and Nicolas Cage), left their acting bleeding on the battlefield. I like Cage and Perlman. They are capable of much better.
Then there is the flippantly modern dialog, which grates against the grittiness of Medieval grime and Black Death Plague. Felson and Behmen might as well have been taxi drivers picking up fares in Wormwood Forest the way they banter. I don't know when English language contractions first took hold, but given my understanding of the Dark Ages, their speech oft vexed my ears. Not that I expected Shakespearean diction, mind you, but I question director Dominic Sena's undermining of his historical illusion in this way. Thankfully he didn't add a thumping rock score.
For more dislikes I'll add: the superfluous voice-over ruining the mood of the ending long shot; the Devil's wimpy voice (both of them, oddly enough), and the dead monks scampering across the walls--so J-Horror yesterday, you know what I mean?--were enough to make me write ill about them.
And so I have.
But Season of the Witch is still a good movie in spite of itself. It just doesn't try hard enough (aka poor choices made in production). It hurries past its subtexts like the opening montage of battles hurries us through the long years of Crusading in just a few moments, and leaves us accepting it all at face value.
A peaches and cream complexioned young woman (Claire Foy) is accused of witchcraft and blamed for causing the plague. The church desperately needs to transport her to a monastery whose monks possess the only copy of The Greater Key of Solomon (though I believe it's referred to as The Book of Solomon in the movie). The book contains the incantation to de-witchify her and stop the plague. Felson and Behmen are coerced into doing the transporting, though they have their doubts she's a witch and distrust the priest (Stephen Campbell Moore) accompanying them. They also need to pass through gloomy and doomy Wormwood Forest, fraught with perils, to get there.
Now let the terror begin, or the uncertainty of the truth ignite conflict within the group, or the lost faith of both knights rekindle. Although all three of these elements fitfully glimmer they never infect the dramatis personae enough to deepen the drama or tie our emotions to it.
The uninspired and budget-limited computer-generated imagery, and the overly done Elephant Man-styled special effects makeup for plague victims--while attention to basic detail is missing--is a distraction. Look closely at Cardinal D'Ambroise's (Christopher Lee) forehead covered in large, bubbling cysts. You will see the ambitious rubber piece droop as he talks. Look at everyone speaking and you will see perfect white teeth (except for the Cardinal).
There is a wonderfully gruesome but telling depiction of bloodletting conducted by the plague doctors as they attend to the Cardinal. Bloody rags and bowls of blood are everywhere as the group of beak doctors, dressed in their weird accouterments, go about their useless treatment. There is an energetic, Hammeresque opening teaser involving three accused witches hanged from a bridge. It not only sets up what follows but twists our perception of what we think should follow.
More of the mood, depth, and grain found in these two scenes needed to spread across the rest of the movie.
It sounded like a cool idea for a movie, but from the first preview for it I had no desire to see it--I think I just can't fathom Nicholas Cage in this role (not to mention the man simply irks me). But it's interesting to know that the movie did have some good points, which I suppose teaches me not to judge so quickly. Still don't know if I'll ever end up seeing it, but thanks for the insightful review.
Posted by: Joanna | January 12, 2011 at 09:49 PM
Hey A. Jaye,
The rub here is I read the spec script way back when. While I felt, at the time, it needed more action, the flow was very different. Given more care and acting passion, this would be a different movie. It still has good elements, but they're clobbered by the inattention to important details.
Posted by: zoc | January 11, 2011 at 05:01 PM
John you've convinced me.
In any case I haven't liked Nicolas cage since the 90s. Dominic Sena is a joke. He's directed A-Listers but never a great film. Those two names alone were enough to turn me off this flick.
Your review confirmed it.
Posted by: A.Jaye | January 11, 2011 at 04:40 PM