Friday, August 26, 2011

Season of the Witch

I was going to pass over Season of the Witch --- mostly because it looked horrid --- but I saw Chris Gore's quick review of it and my interest was piqued by the words "zombie monks."  Admittedly, that is not a phrase that is often accompanied by "the Academy Award-winning performance of," but Nicolas Cage fighting zombie monks should have been hilarious.  Not hilarious enough, as it turns out.

When, exactly, is Witching Season?  Right after duck season?  Actually, the Season of the Witch takes place during the Crusades of the mid-1300s.  Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) are bad-ass knights that love to slaughter heretics.  We know this because the two basically tell the camera in so many words.  You'll have to take their word for it, since the large action sequences aren't very convincing.
I find it hard to believe that anyone reached age 60 in the Crusades, much less a knight
After killing in the name of (DA-DA!  DUM!) God for many years, Behmen and Felson decided to quit the team after they invaded a castle and found themselves slaughtering defenseless women and children.  The resident war-priest guy argued that there's no crying in baseball the Crusades, but nobody kept the pair from walking slowly off into the sunset.  The end.  Ha!  If only!  Behmen and Felson walk back to Behmen's hometown in Germany, only to find the area stricken with dead and bloated plague bodies.
Co-starring Christopher Lee's plague corpse!
Knowing that Crusades-quitters are outlaws, the pair enter the nearest city with the intent of buying horses to take them to Felson's hometown; ever-careful to not be identified, Behmen wears a mask over his face (which doesn't attract attention at all) and Felson wears a hood (except when he doesn't).  Despite these precautions, the men are identified as Crusades-quitters when Behmen allows a clumsy child to handle the only thing in his possession that would identify him as a Crusades-quitter. 
"Okay, maybe I should have thought that one through."
The pair get locked up in a dungeon and await their inevitable hanging for treason.  Or is it inevitable?  The town has captured a young girl that they claim is a witch.  Obviously, a witch being in the same place the plague is means that the witch cursed the land.  Just as obviously, the witch needs to be immediately killed taken to a remote colony of monks, who will put her on trial for witchcraft.  The town is a little short on brave men that can travel across the dangerous German landscape unscathed, so Behmen and Felson get a chance to clear their names.  Of course, it's not that simple.  Witchcrafted wolves and dangerous bridges stand in their way, but Behmen, Felson, the supposed witch, and a few others are off to monkland!
"I've reason to believe we both will be received in Monkland"

Sounds like an acting tour de force, eh?  Yeah, well...this was never going to be a great film, so I went into this with low expectations.  Ron Perlman was decently likable.  Robert Sheehan was kind of annoying as the d'Artagnon of the witch-escorting-party, but he's not so bad that you'll remember his performance the next day.  Claire Foy had a terrible character to play, but she still wasn't very good.  On the plus side, she is about the only person in the cast who looked dirty enough to be in the 14th century.
Surprisingly clean hair, though
Stephen Graham was mediocre in a small supporting role and Stephen Campell Moore was similarly bland as the witch-escort's resident priest.  I was kind of disappointed by their performances, because I have enjoyed them in bit parts in the past; I guess I was hoping that some British charm would help make this movie more entertaining. 
Stephen Campbell Moore witnessing Nicolas Cage overacting for the first time
But that was not to be.  This movie stars Nicolas Cage, and far from his best work.  I have seen Cage do good work in the past, and I have seen him be flamboyantly (and entertainingly) silly.  This is the other Nicolas Cage, the one who thinks he's in a serious movie.  It's not that he's terrible.  I thought he matched the tone of the film just fine; that's only a problem when the movie's tone is shitty.  I've seen him act worse, but Season of the Witch really could have used a less subdued and more ridiculously overacting Nic Cage.
"You want me to overact more?"  I know, I know.

The fact of the matter is that Season of the Witch is about as fun to watch as watching plague blister pus dry.  Why is that?  Director Dominic Sena is no stranger to stupid movies, but at least he usually has the sense to be completely goofy or have Halle Berry take her top off to distract audiences.  This movie is just dull.  The battle scenes in the beginning were tepid, the horror angle never really pays off, and there is no suspense.  This isn't the most incompetent directing job I have ever seen, but it is an impressive blend of disappointing special effects, a lousy script, cheesy acting and boring plot.

...And then there are the frequent story and visual parallels between Season of the Witch and Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.  If absolutely nothing else, I will say that Sena was bold to invite comparison between this mess and a classic film.  "Bold" isn't always a smart choice, though.  Witch takes a lot of cosmetic similarities --- two men return from the Crudades (disillusioned) to a plague-ridden homeland, the men form a traveling group in the woods, there is a potentially wrongly accused witch being transported through the woods in a wooden cage, etc. --- and tries to twist its premise into an action/fantasy film.  It could have worked (somewhat) with a better script or better special effects, but the constant reminders of a better film just make Season of the Witch seem that much worse.  On the other hand, it was pretty freaking hilarious to see just how heavy-handed the parallels were.

There is something worth noting about this film, but I have to warn you...SPOILER ALERT: Season of the Witch has no witches in it.  Ha!  HA!  That's almost funny enough to make up for the rest of the film.  That's right, the supposed witch is really a demon.  What a twist!  And that's worse, it's the first time demons are mentioned in the story, so...I'm not sure.  The witchy-demon does animate monk corpses to fight our heroes, which is awesome in theory.  In practice, the special effects and lack of suspense or horror ruined that seemingly foolproof plot element.  Oh, well.  While that is remarkably stupid, it's not enough to make up for the rest of the movie.  It is good enough for one star, though, and I did enjoy one of the death scenes and I laughed whenever it compared itself to The Seventh Seal.  It's not much, but you take what you can get from witches.

Here's a live recording from Liars, from their witch-themed album, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned.


  1. Interesting note, there's a George A. Romero movie also called Season of the Witch. Based on your review I would warn you that you probably saw the better film.

  2. I think that it should get an additional star for reminding you of Liars. blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood...

  3. I mean a whole album about freakin' witches. What a brilliant concept. Witches. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood...

  4. @Danny: I've read that Season of the Witch is the only film Romero would choose to remake. Considering some of his output...ouch.

    @NB: Here's the angle I took --- the movie reminded me to listen to this album again, and the album is a better movie than this film was. Have you checked out any of the official videos from this album? They're unique.

  5. Oh, I almost forgot to add: blood, blood, blood, blood. Blood. Blood.

  6. I believe Witch Season follows Wabbit season actually. LOL.

    So is this movie laughably good at least? Can I have fun mocking it to myself as I watch?

  7. @Fog: I dunno. It is laughably bad in parts, especially if you're familiar with The Seventh Seal, but there are a lot more entertaining bad movies out there. I would recommend Jonah Hex before this one, and Mega Piranha was the most awesomely bad movie I saw last year.