Season of the Witch (2011)

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It seems churlish to criticise a film for its deficiencies when they are obviously caused by a tight budget, but Season of the Witch really suffers due to ideas above its financial station. Given a Michael Bay-esque mega budget, Dominic Sena could perhaps have produced an exciting and visually impressive movie. Unfortunately, with only the funds available to him, the director’s finished article looks over-stretched and struggles to keep your interest.

The film follows two war-weary knights Behmen (Nic Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman), who after years of blood letting and battles, decide to abandon the crusades when they begin to question whether this slaughter is really what God expects of them. After being captured and charged with desertion, the two knights are offered a chance at redemption by the local clergy of a plague-ravaged town. The knights are asked to transport a suspected witch to a remote monastery where the resident monks can try to break the curse she has brought upon their lands. The knights are joined on this journey by an assortment of thinly drawn characters including a shifty looking priest and a bright-eyed young altar boy who hopes to one day become a knight himself. Along the way there are the usual trials and tribulations one might expect and when they do finally arrive at the monastery, things take yet another turn for the worst.

Taken purely on its synopsis, there’s clearly plenty for a director to get his teeth into here. There is war, witchcraft, haunted woods and perhaps even the involvement of Beelzebub himself. Yet, without the resources to really do these scenes justice, Sena struggles to inject any excitement or suspense into them and the whole affair is ultimately boring and distinctly un-menacing. There’s a dazzling array of questionable CGI on display including snarling wolves that resemble the cackling Hyena’s in the Lion King and spider-walking demons that are on a par with The Mummy Returns ‘Scorpion King’ in terms of low-budget CGI missteps. Even the early battle scenes look noticeable low-rent with a distinct lack of numbers involved in the supposed epic clashes of East Versus West.

The dialogue is unavoidably cringe worthy throughout the movie with plenty of overly earnest religious zeal on display and such choice lines as “if you kill her, you will not have God to blame…only yourself.” Obviously it’s hard for a script that’s set in the 14th Century and based on ancient Christian mythology to be packed with pithy one-liners, but Season of the Witch takes itself far too seriously. Rather then letting the actors loose to enjoy the ride, they appear to be encouraged to play it straight and maintain the film’s sombre tone. Unfortunately this doesn’t make for very entertaining viewing and Perlman and Cage seem to spend the whole film wondering what their agents got them into.

It’s a shame that the end product is so underwhelming as underneath it all there is a solid premise here. Against the backdrop of a battle between good and evil and the morality of killing in the name of God, knights must transport a suspected witch who can play demonic mind games on them to a remote outpost in the middle of a haunted wood. This could make a dark and suspenseful horror-thriller in the right hands; a kind of medieval Exorcist meets Event Horizon perhaps. Unfortunately there’s no evidence of those films on display here as Sena delivers a dull and predictable movie that pins far too much on its big set-pieces which fail resoundingly. A definite missed opportunity.

Director: Dominic Sena
Writer: Bragi F. Schut
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy
Runtime: 95 min
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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