Sunday, 17 July 2011

Season of the Witch (2011)

Country: USA

Despite having shown genuine acting ability, and a genuine flair for quirky and peculiar characters, actor Nicolas Cage continues to make atrocious career choices. He recently crafted a wonderful performance as the corrupt New Orleans detective Terence McDonagh in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009). It came as a surprise to most because it reminded audiences that Cage did once possess something special. But films such as Raising Arizona (1987), Wild at Heart (1990) and Leaving Las Vegas (1995) are consigned to history. Only of use to Cage fans and film scholars. The latter always willing to drift into the mists of time for something interesting. For a certain generation Nicolas Cage is represented by films like National Treasure (2004), Next (2007) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010). He is a man that will seemingly agree to appear in anything. This tends to be something actors do when their star has burned out. Cage can certainly afford to be selective, and is obviously cine-literate enough to know that one doesn’t pass up the chance to work with Werner Herzog. This only makes his decision to appear in something like Season of the Witch all the more perplexing. It is made worse by the fact that Cage is hopelessly miscast. I can’t think of a more inappropriate person to play a 14th century knight rallying against the hypocrisies of the Church.

If the presence of one over-acting egomaniac isn’t enough, we also have the support of Ron Perlman. Perlman is however far more watchable and enjoyable in this film and brings to the table a sardonic performance which suggests he isn’t taking the film particularly seriously. But disastrously for Season of the Witch everyone else does. The best sequence opens the film; a moodily lit execution of three supposed witches which sets up both the reality of the phenomenon and the hypocrisy of the church. What follows this is a montage of battle sequences that totally undoes the dark and pervasive atmosphere of the prologue. We are transported to the Holy Land where Behman (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) eagerly slaughter hundreds in the name of Christianity. They are so at ease with this wholesale destruction that they even find time to banter and make jokes during the chaos of battle! This montage shows us half a dozen conflicts over the best part of a decade and it stretches credulity somewhat when Behman rejects fighting in the name of the church when he accidentally kills a woman. Are we to believe that in all this time Behman had never unwittingly killed an innocent victim? The point is that Behman challenges the legitimacy of the Church as an institution, an act which makes him and Felson outlaws destined for a life of wandering and subterfuge.

On arriving back in Europe the duo of reformed mass murderers discover a town riddled with plague and a beleaguered Church barely maintaining control. The cause of this outbreak of deadly disease is not the abysmal sanitation and the plague carrying rats, but a witch. The remainder of the film sees Behman and Felson, along with two other knights and a young priest transporting the witch to a remote Abbey where she will be put on trial. The problem is that the film spends a lot of time developing Behman’s opposition to the Church, only for the suspicions of the forces of righteousness to be well founded. The writer Bragi F. Schut doesn’t have the courage to follow through with his attack on the institution of Christianity, and makes Behman’s stance and attitude seem ultimately pointless. On the journey to the Abbey much time is wasted arguing over the fate of the girl, and the film tries to develop suspense over whether she is a witch or not. Yet the opening prologue has already confirmed to the audience that Witchcraft exists. The chances of her not possessing supernatural powers are incredibly remote. It turns out that she is possessed by a demon, a lily livered and feeble conclusion which both confirms the position of the Church, whilst at the same time condemning it for thinking the girl herself is the root of the evil.

The majority of the film is spent on the road in a hostile wilderness that is part Austrian, Hungarian and Croatian countryside and part CGI. $40,000,000 were spent on this movie, and the visuals are very unconvincing. Though not as unconvincing as the acting it has to be said. The director Dominic Sena obviously believes that a film such as this is the right device to quote from the legendary Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), a film which also sees two knights return from the crusades to a chaotic plague infested landscape. Instead it becomes a grotesque and absurd parody, one which might have worked, were it not for the solemn and gloomy tone which suggests the filmmakers are taking it all seriously. The references to Bergman’s film are purposeless and empty. A vapid and risible attempt to give thematic weight by association to a film that is juvenile and lifeless. The typically overblown finale in which a winged demon attempts to lay claim to an ancient text which keeps the forces of evil at bay is the final insult. The climax is so rushed and so full of masturbatory CGI that we barely register the deaths of Behman and Felson. Cage tries too inject pathos into his death speech, but it spirals rapidly into unintentional hilarity. Despite appearing in this utter dross, Nicolas Cage will once again survive it. Were it not for a cameo by Christopher Lee as a plague riddled Bishop Season of the Witch would be utterly worthless.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. I still think this film will achieve a cult following in the future (just like Drive Angry) these kinds of movies always do.

  2. Any Film with Christopher Lee in has some merit- Good old Mr Lee

  3. Ordinarily I'd agree Cal, but not in this case.

  4. eddie lydecker28 July 2011 at 23:11

    I actually think that the ludicrous and absurd miscasting of Cage will be THE specific reason why this film will indeed achieve a cult following, the cult movie freaks always go for a great miscasting.

  5. That may well be the case Eddie, but I rather suspect this one will quickly vanish into the mists of obscurity...or is that just wishful thinking?

  6. Haha, Nic Cage totally phoned this in. This could have been so much better. This should have went straight to dvd.

  7. Haha,ouch! Poor Nic Cage. He should be making better movies. I guess he will take anything for money. One of these days, he will have payed off his debt.

  8. I agree that Season of the Witch was a let down, luckly I had no preconception on whether it would be an enjoyable watch or not. Of course with $40million spent I would naturally expect a better film, (probably half of this went on Mr Cage fee though.) I also agree that Nicholas Cage's last ten years of film have been without Merit, none that I can see anyway. (Bad Lieutenant aside as I've yet to see it.) The acting in this movie although still a let down is not the worst thing though. The story is so poorly set-out from beginning to the end, it feels as if its been lazily cobbled together just to become another popcorn fodder turn-out. Cult movie NOT! Possibly Drive angry yes only due to the subtle performance by William Fichter though.

  9. Hi there Feore Fan - I did have a preconception; the casting of Nicolas Cage provided that. I haven't had the 'pleasure' of DRIVE ANGRY, and nor am I likely too. You should certainly give BAD LIEUTENANT a watch though.


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