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SEASON OF THE WITCH, 2011
A 14th century Crusader returns to a homeland devastated by the Black Plague. A beleaguered church, deeming sorcery the culprit of the plague, commands the two knights to transport an accused witch to a remote abbey, where monks will perform a ritual in hopes of ending the pestilence. A priest, a grieving knight, a disgraced itinerant and a headstrong youth who can only dream of becoming a knight join a mission troubled by mythically hostile wilderness and fierce contention over the fate of the girl. When the embattled party arrives at the abbey, a horrific discovery jeopardises the knight's pledge to ensure the girl fair treatment, and pits them against an inexplicably powerful and destructive force.
Release Date: 7 January 2011
There is a bleak fog that is being coughed out of the studios of Hollywood during the month of January. After the studios have raced around the clock to get their proudest accomplishments into the theaters and film festivals by the end of the year, there now exists a period of dismal entertainment being released into the box offices before the crowds are ready for the summer blockbusters. It is a momentary lapse in quality for cinema releases, between the noteworthy Oscar contenders of the winter and the big-budget productions of the summer. Yes, these are indeed the Dark Ages.
And by the time you read this review, you have probably read and heard horrible criticisms about this movie. And most of these are fair and accurate. Yes, the dialogue is cheesy, anachronistic, and dull. Yes, the scenario is weak, predictable, and unbelievable. Yes, it is ridiculous that we are expected to engage in a story that takes place during the Black Plague of Europe, yet every character speaks with an American accent.
But mostly, people are in agreement that this is yet another movie that should not have featured Nicolas Cage. Why, Mr. Cage, why? You have endless opportunity in this business, not to mention that nifty bookshelf ornament that says “Best Actor” on the bottom. Why are you degrading your craft as an accomplished actor and tormenting your exhausted fans with these mediocre efforts? How many bad movies can you make before your career is gone in sixty seconds?
“I think at some point I wanted to make movies that celebrated actors like Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, and the great Roger Corman classics that are unafraid to explore the paranormal and the supernatural,” Cage told MTV News. “These are the kind of movies that I personally watch, so it’s a very honest expression for me.”
The actor has a point. As “Season of the Witch” sets its plot points in motion, the great Christopher Lee is summoned to visually stun the audience as an example of the horrific power behind witchcraft’s sorcery. It is a brief but shocking appeal to the viewers. This story has some rotten flesh it wants you to smell. Though technically his bubonic infection is acknowledged as a symptom of the Black Death, the Cardinal D’Ambroise (Lee) blames a young girl named Anna (Claire Foy, beautiful but dangerously seductive) for this hideous outbreak.
Cage stars as a knight named Behmen, who is doing God’s work by killing countless extras in the fight scenes. These were called the Crusades, high schoolers, if you are using this movie as a reference towards your medieval history lessons. Behmen and best friend Felson (Ron Pearlman, imagine your high school gym teacher decked out in chain-mail) are suddenly disillusioned with the war effort and desert their armies only to discover insipid death choking the local communities all around them.
They are recruited by the bedridden Cardinal to transport the captured witch to a far-away monastery, so her fate can be determined and the curse extinguished by the officiating monks. As they journey through these barren lands, they encounter dangerous perils of the Black Plague along the way.
Now, since medical geneticists have yet to be born, the major logical answer to all this death and pestilence is not famine, war, or rodent infestation. No, this is clearly the work of women, the witching kind. Such was the righteous and sensible thinking behind Fourteenth Century politics. And this is probably where the movie missed its best opportunity to win an audience. This part of the story is historically accurate, and therefore remarkably perverse and ironic. So why not engage some humor in this topic and depict how truly insane these religious leaders were from the perspective of the townsfolk women?
But the film walks a different path than this. Rather than entertain the notion that these fears are the outrageous fantasies of ancestral paranoia, the film mandates that witches and demons are very much to blame for all of this destruction and chaos. As Behmen and Felson get closer to their goal, their obstacles and nemeses become wilder and more far-fetched. By the film’s final act, the story has fallen so deep into the twisted realm of the supernaturally absurd that it is hard to look Mr. Cage straight in the eye without wondering, “Do you really like these kind of movies, Nic? Really?”
For fans of medieval fantasy, the film delivers what it promises. There is plenty of blood, pus, and boiling human fat to satisfy any fan of Dark Age action. There are very few plot twists that compel the viewer to consider any deep meaning regarding this storyline. Special effects and make-up? Sure, it all looks like it was a long time ago and that it probably sucked to be alive then. Visually, the film owns up to its title as a macabre period-piece adventure.
Just don’t look for much pleasure or plausible thought in the narrative context. There is nothing to be enjoyed in any of the conversations or actions among characters. Pearlman tries his hardest to crack a smile from the audience, but they will most likely be imitating Christopher Lee’s curled lip hardened by the swollen bulbous on his face.
And then they’ll probably laugh at Cage’s goofy wig with the golden bangs. Beyond that, there is very little to enjoy here.
SEASON OF THE WITCH