Photo by EGON ENDRENYI/SEASON OF THE WITCH DISTRIBUTIONS
Nicolas Cage, left, and Ron Perlman star in Relativity Media's “Season of the Witch.”
Though it is a rare accomplishment, occasionally a filmmaker manages to successfully fuse elements of the historic epic with traditional fantasy or contemporary horror to fashion a spectacular and mesmerizing cross-genre masterpiece.
Director Dominic Sean surely had this objective in mind when he took the reins of “Season of the Witch,” a supernatural adventure flick set in the 14th century. Unfortunately, the end product is less than spellbinding.
The film features Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman as a pair of Crusaders who – after decades of fighting and killing in the name of God – find themselves questioning the endless carnage. Their blind loyalty to the church evaporates after one particularly gruesome incident involving the slaughter of women and children. Behrman (Cage) and Felon (Perlman) forsake their vows, desert the army and head for their homeland.
Arriving in Europe, the two knights find the Black Plague has decimated the countryside. When they are apprehended in Marburg, Cardinal D’Amboise (Christopher Lee) offers to excuse their desertion if they agree to undertake a dangerous mission. It seems church elders blame the plague on a young woman (Claire Foy) held in the Marburg dungeon. D’Amboise wants the witch delivered to a distant abbey where she will stand trial for her presumed malevolence.
Joining the knights on this quest are a swindler accused of selling bogus relics (Stephen Graham), a young man who seeks to become a knight (Robert Sheehan), a knight who has lost his family to the plague (Ulrich Thomsen) and a naďve priest (Stephen Campbell Moore).
“Season of the Witch” starts out on floundering footing, lurching through a series of battle sequences without evoking a trace of excitement or awe. The scenes are intended to set up a back-story for Behrman and Felon, but the combat seems entirely too coordinated and lacks the passion and bloodlust necessary to delineate these characters.
Adding to the monotony of this lackluster glimpse at the Crusades is the utterly wooden dialog. Authentic vernacular isn’t the problem here: No matter what century this story was set in, the artificial lines uttered by these characters would seem stilted and far-fetched.
To make matters worse, Sean seems to have borrowed all-too-familiar bits from a half a dozen genre films such as “Lord of the Rings,” “Beast master,” “The Exorcist,” “Underworld: Evolution” and “Excalibur.” Technically, even the title isn’t original: “Season of the Witch” also is the name of George A. Romero’s third film (1972) as well as the subtitle of the third film in the “Halloween” franchise (1982).
Cage delivers a detached performance at best, giving the impression he didn’t find his own character remotely believable or even interesting. Watching him in “Season of the Witch” is like watching an aging blue-collar worker dissatisfied with his lot in life punching the clock on a Monday morning.
Compared to Cage, Perlman is genius – at least, as remarkable as he can be given the material. His delivery is more sincere, but the words he articulates still have no force behind them. Still, Perlman feels more at home in a movie like this – and for those who’d like to check out a far more interesting film set in the 14th century in which Perlman appeared, check out “The Name of the Rose.”
Lee’s contribution as D’Amboise is outstanding, particularly since he does his acting from the character’s deathbed. Moreover, he’s covered in glistening, pus-filled buboes. His revolting appearance calls to mind one area where “Season of the Witch” achieves distinction: The Black Death has never looked so hideous on film.
Too bad the same can’t be said for the film’s CGI-generated wolves and assorted supernatural beasties. Just like the early battle sequences, the climatic scenes are tedious and shallow – the intended momentous spiritual struggle seems more like a schoolyard brawl populated by unenthusiastic combatants.
A few good performances and a sprinkle of breathtaking vistas aside, “Season of the Witch” is lifeless and Cage is operating on autopilot. Sean took a promising premise and infected it with a plague of tediousness.