Review

Season Of The Witch

Director    Dominic Sena
Starring    Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Christopher Lee, Stephen Graham
Release    7 JAN (US) 7 JAN (UK)    Certificate 15
2 stars

James

10th January 2011

On paper, at least, Season Of The Witch sounds like a delightful medieval romp; Nic Cage and Ron Perlman as world-weary Crusaders, escorting a suspected sorceress across plague-stricken Blighty? Why, throw in some Eric Clapton and a dash of Joe Pesci and it's practically Lethal Weapon 2. Sadly, such early promise is quickly scuppered by the sick, unnerving realisation that the film is little more than a plodding exercise in inanity for which you paid 7 to see Cage look like a homeless Chad Kroeger.

Proceedings follow Nic 'n Ron's disillusioned 13th Century knights, who find themselves returning to England from slaughtering a conglomerate of infidels only to find it subsumed by the Black Plague, which the clergy identify as the work of a suspected young witch (Claire Foy). Instructed by a dying cardinal (Christopher Lee) that the only way to save the populace is to transport the girl to a monastery to be properly tried, they are accompanied by a host of archetypes (haunted knight, weaselly trickster, wide-eyed newcomer, etc) in traversing an underwhelming landscape of misty plains, spooky woods and hokey villages.

Besides the aforementioned epidemic, one of the film's chief blights is its jarringly maladjusted sense of reality. The film's opening sequence (an atmospheric, suspenseful creepshow to which everything that follows is but a sorry anticlimax) sees one priest hang and drown several women suspected of witchcraft, before being brutally murdered as of them flies triumphantly out of the water - now donning monster make-up seemingly taken from one of the earlier episodes of Buffy. So far, so supernatural.

[gallery]However, one of the film's subsequent plot threads is the ambiguity of whether Foy is indeed a cauldron-cradling hag or simply a tortured young girl, and how the group escorting her respond to this. In a world where it has already been established that magic and monsters really do exist, this is rendered completely absurd, worsened by the frequent blatancy that Foy has unearthly powers (which were, in fact, revealed merrily in the trailers).

Highlighting such a major plot hole may sound pedantic in writing, but its presence subconsciously disturbs one's enjoyment of the film - when the world the filmmakers are trying to encourage your brain to invest in doesn't make sense, it makes it hard to care about anything that follows.

In a similarly uncanny vain, one's attention is also drawn to the downright sanitized laziness which dogs the film's visual style. Murky and sombre-hued as Season's world may be, there's something distressingly sterile about it all - never once does the grime and grit that our protagonists trawl through convince. Foy is sold to us as a tortured victim locked in a filthy dungeon, and yet her face is washed perfectly clean.

Compared this to the aesthetic of another Perlman feature, The Name Of The Rose (which truly was vile), the distinction is patently obvious; for all the admittedly impressive plague effects, one never feels disgusted by what is supposedly a disgusting world.

Such an effect is worsened by the sheer monotony of events. Bereft of any especially invigorating scares or set-pieces (the best the film can muster is an overlong sequence involving the crossing of a rickety bridge), the film invests no effort into trying to entertain its audience; early attempts at fraternal banter between Cage and Perlman feels misplaced and are quickly dropped, whilst a shrug-worthy third act plot 'twist' (really more of a kink, a meander at best) barely registers.

Everything about the film simply screams (at best) adequacy, the film's refusal to ever aspire above this being perhaps what offends most. Its steadfast devotion to crap movie tropes even extends to the standard 'monster-laden CGI showdown' come the final 30 minutes; we're only a David Wenham performance and dodgy PS2 tie-in away from Van Helsing here, people.

Certainly, this even applies to poor old Cage himself - his performance is certainly sincere and emotive, however it also feels strangely muted and crucially lacking that one scenery-chewing 'Cage Moment' that have defined his performances of late. Some may welcome this novelty, but to those glassy-eyed devotees of us who have to watch Next once a day to pay homage to our lank-haired messiah, it's an outrageous let-down.

The rest of the cast are generally rather good in sadly unmemorable roles; Perlman is typically likeable, whilst Foy, Ulrich Thomsen and Stephen Campbell Moore all put in good performances. One wonders, though, why Stephen Graham (in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance) was instructed to imbue his character with a Chicago brogue.

In sum, Season Of The Witch disappoints; not because it's immeasurably bad, but rather because it's so unrelentingly inert - there's sod-all in here for Converse-wearing fans of cinematic irony to work with. Dull and unimaginative, the Christopher Lee cameo is appreciated but it's unfortunate that it is not accompanied by Cage singing jaunty seaside tunes or watching videos of monkeys whilst sipping M&Ms from a tumbler. One awaits the release of the sure-to-be-silly Drive Angry with bated breath and celebratory "HOW'D IT GET BURNED?" tees.

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