Season of the Witch (2011)

Directed By: Dominic Sena
Written By: Bragi F. Schut
Starring: Nicolas Cage
  Ron Perlman
  Claire Foy
  Robert Sheehan
Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch is reliably terrible. From the explosively ridiculous cinema trailers to the bus-stop posters featuring Nic Cage in another hilarious wig, it was clearly going to be a po-faced action-horror and laughably crap because of it. In this regards it lived up to expectations, but it also turned out to be even worse than anticipated. It is a lesson in bad filmmaking from start to finish. It is not unwatchable, but it certainly is an abysmal mess.

The plot is beautifully simple – a group of 14th Century Knights are forced to transport a suspected witch across the countryside to a remote monastery. This girl might be responsible for the Bubonic Plague currently devastating Europe, so getting her safely to the monks might end the pestilence forever. It’s not that easy, however, and they’re faced with many obstacles on their travels, including a clichéd rickety bridge and some CGI wolves stolen from Roland Emmerich’s garage.

The overarching theme is supposed to be about trust and belief, but Season of the Witch is not cerebrally challenging, coming across as more of an action-horror film than anything remotely dramatic. Fire, magic, plague-ridden corpses, swords and explosions fling themselves around the screen, knocking any pertinent morality questions to the background whilst Cage gets his swordfight on.

The creation of any film involves taking carefully crafted components and sewing them together, hoping that every intricacy and tiny part fits perfectly to create something everyone can be proud of. The creators of Season of the Witch should be ashamed of themselves. No one expected it to be factually accurate, but it repeatedly rapes history with a knife. The make-up is appalling in places, the CGI hilariously terrible, the script an absolute atrocity and even the lighting is bizarre in places. Only the costume and some of the non-CGI sets survive ridicule, creating realistic backdrops to some of the more static scenes. Sadly, despite having a likeable cast, even the actors fail miserably to convince…

In 2010 Nicolas Cage gave excellent turns in Bad Lieutenant and Kick Ass, but tragically Season of the Witch knocks him back down to the lowly levels of Knowing, Next and – * shudder * – Ghost Rider. Cage has little to work with though; having a troubled character that has lost his faith in practically everything, leaving him a humourless casket full of dead potential. For die-hard fans of Nic Cage, however, you’ll be pleased to know Cage’s trademark appalling haircut blows hideously in the wind throughout.

There are also disappointing turns from Ron Perlman, Stephen Graham and Robert Sheehan, who are normally very likeable performers. Perlman attempts to find humour in a unamusingly clichéd script, Graham adopts a very bizarre accent that distracts throughout and Sheehan is utterly sidelined and has none of the expected charm he normally possesses when playing Nathan in Channel 4’s demented sit-com Misfits.

The acting is never appalling, however, and relative newcomer Claire Foy is perfectly cast as “The Girl”. She has a cunning innocence shimmering with underlying power throughout and although the question of “is she a witch?” is utterly superfluous the moment we meet her, she does well with a role that mostly involves staring at people through some prison bars. An unrecognisable Christopher Lee also makes a cameo appearance at the ripe old age of 88 and, despite literally lying in a bed and mumbling, still has an amazing screen presence.

The main flaw in Season of the Witch is tone. Whereas the similar swords n’ witches n’ plague movie Solomon Kane was created with a cunning sense of humour, Season of the Witch is far too po-faced and completely without a sly sense of knowing. It is amusing in places, but laugh-at-the-crapness amusing, not genuinely funny. The cinema was filled with muffled snickering throughout, especially when Cage tried to deliver some of the “olde worldy” language in his normal American accent. It was unintentionally laughable.

The fact Season of the Witch is nothing special is of no surprise to anyone. Director Dominic Sena has rarely created anything hugely inspiring and Season of the Witch can be added to Gone in Sixty Seconds, Swordfish and Whiteout in his canon of safely mediocre films. Any hopes Sena will return to his brutally gritty roots of Kalifornia, back when he debuted in 1993, are sadly dashed with this latest horrible mess.

Coincidentally this is the second plague-based horror film to be released within a year, with Christopher Smith’s Black Death hitting screens in 2010. These are two very different animals however. Black Death is gritty, down-to-earth and simmering with subtleties whilst Season of the Witch is loud, violent and utterly ludicrous throughout. Watch Black Death instead.

Season of the Witch is not annoying or frustrating or angering, it is simply utterly pointless and completely ludicrous. We expected ridiculous silliness, but not on such a scale – truly awful facial hair, ceiling-scuttling monks and a demon with a bizarre Jamaican accent – it’s semi-distracting Sunday afternoon entertainment, but nothing more.

Rating: ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

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