In the 14th century, veteran Crusaders Behmen and Felson grow weary of the constant battles and the way the Church orders the deaths of women and children whose only crime was to be not Christian. After Behmen kills a woman, he and Felson desert and after a long journey reach Eastern Europe to find it stricken with plague. They are arrested for desertion but offered a full pardon if they escort the ‘witch’ responsible for the plague to a monastery where they have a ritual which can kill her. Though the ‘witch’ appears to be just a poor young woman who has been brutally beaten, they set off, accompanied by three others……
I hadn’t even heard of Season Of The Witch until a couple of weeks ago, but I found the idea of another medieval horror-orientated film pretty exciting, especially after the fine Black Death. The Middle Ages seems like a perfect setting for horror and it hasn’t really been used much. However, upon reading up on this movie, it turns out it has had a troubled production history. It was originally conceived of as an ‘R’ rated movie, really dark and brutal, and was actually made in 2008, but Lionsgate sold the movie to Rogue/Universal. After many delays it was due to come out in March last year, then was pulled and changed into a softer ‘PG 13’ rated movie, with lots of footage removed and new scenes shot. One would expect Season Of The Witch to be a total mess after all this and it is a bit of a mess but is not as bad as all that. It’s a passable action/adventure movie with mild horror elements that does just about entertain if you switch your brain off.
Matters begin in pretty strong fashion, with supposed ‘witches’ confessing and then being tossed over a castle balcony on ropes to their deaths. There’s a strong sense of authenticity to this scene, but then a couple of minutes later one of the dead witches comes back to life as a Deadite kind of creature in a mild jolt, setting off an inconsistent tone which remains throughout the film. Then we cut to our heroes as Crusaders about to partake in a battle, talking amusing stuff about whoever kills more buys drinks, and the like. A series of battles are briefly shown, and we are adroitly shown Behmen and Felsen’s increasing tiring of all this stuff, in the process. Then after deserting and much wandering they are arrested and after what has seemed like forever the main plot of the film finally decides to get underway. The ensuring journey is handled at a rather slow pace, but enough happens to keep the interest, from wolves to a rickety rope bridge which even Indiana Jones might have second thoughts about going on to. We are kept guessing as to whether ‘the Girl’ [as she is called] is a witch or not, and several scenes are kept rather ambiguous. Then we arrive at the monastery and we are treated to a ridiculous but fun action climax with zombie ninja monks [honestly!] and a rather effective looking demon.
Plenty of elements for a fun fantasy then, but unfortunately Season Of The Witch is handled, for the most part, in a plodding and overly serious manner. I say for the most part, because there are also some out of place goofy bits such as 80s action movie oneliner quips from Ron Perlman’s Felsen, and a demon who sounds like a bizarre cross between Rupert Everett and Jar Jar Binks. Obviously this inconsistency is partially due to the alterations made, but so much else about this movie is inconsistent too, you have really good scenes alternating with pretty awful ones, and that’s frustrating, because there is some good stuff here. The depiction of the Middle Ages is really convincing, obviously a great deal of work has been done to make it seem really realistic, with more mud and grime than even Terry Gilliam might want to put in. However, set against this you have some atrocious CGI, including the worst cloud effect I’ve probably ever seen in a film. Most of the action is handled in the manner that most action is handled now, with whirling cameras and close ups making proceedings little more than an eye-hurting blur at times, though sometimes, such as during the afore mentioned wolf attack, it was probably done to help hide the crap effects. However, then you have the absolutely brilliant rope bridge scene, which is extremely suspenseful and really had me on the edge of my seat.
Bragi Schutt’s script seems to have quite a bit to say about religious hypocrisy and intolerance, and suggests the interesting notion that maybe the Crusades were motivated not by Christianity but something darker. However, all this gets forgotten after a while. The dialogue is wierd, it tries to be an approximation of the way people think that olden folk talked, but every now and again throws in a modern word or phrase. Nicolas Cage gives one of his lazier performances but him and Perlman do make a good team and the interplay between the two does bring a little bit of warmth to the film. The standout performance is Claire Foy as ‘the Girl’, she has an unnerving knack of looking sweet and nasty at exactly the same time, and of course there’s a brief appearance by Christopher Lee. Atli Orvarsson’s score serves its purpose but is as generic and unoriginal as you could imagine, sounding like a cross between Hans Zimmer and Harry Gregson-Williams. Overall I did quite enjoy Season Of The Witch despite its many flaws, and I’m willing to bet money on the original cut being very good indeed. As it stands, there just seems to be just bits and bobs of that movie scattered throughout this one.
[pt-filmtitle]Season of the Witch[/pt-filmtitle]