Directed by Dominic Sena
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Nicolas “Blame the Tax Man” Cage is Behmen. Ron “Will Chew Scenery for Food” Perlman is Felson. They’re the baddest Crusaders in the 14th Century. But they’re not in it for the Holy War. No – they’re in it for the absolution. Help the Church save the holy land by killing Muslims by the metric ton and the Pope will grant you absolution for your sins. That’s good for Behmen and Felson because they love to get drunk, tell tales of their battlefield heroics, and fornicate, fornicate, fornicate. Slayin’ Moors and screwin’ whores is the life for them.
Their worldview changes after they realize the men of god they’re fighting for are every bit as bloodthirsty and genocidal as the enemy they’ve been slaughtering for over a decade. The two go AWOL, immediately making them deserters, a crime punishable by death.
That’s the fate that would have awaited them upon being captured in a plague-ridden medieval European city had they not been given one last chance at redemption if they agree to lead a party transporting a nameless young woman (Claire Foy, no relation) accused of being the witch responsible for the lethal epidemic to a remote monastery where she will be most fatally judged for the crimes she claims to be innocent of.
The bishop that gives them this option is played by the great Christopher Lee; his face buried beneath so much latex I wasn’t sure if his character was supposed to be afflicted with bubonic plague or the Toxic Avenger’s grandpa.
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to tell you that this girl does indeed have evil intentions. The movie squanders any chance for is she or isn’t she intrigue before letting it be known she most certainly is.
The journey is treacherous, the witch is a trickster trying to escape, and lives will be lost along the way. And when they finally reach the monastery and all is revealed, anyone watching that stops for two seconds to think about it should quickly realize that almost everything they just spent the previous hour watching was unnecessary and all the manipulation and supernatural shenanigans the witch pulled to make the trip more dangerous even to herself was really counterproductive. This witch is one of those characters right up there with the demon from The Unborn in that she would have gotten exactly what she wanted if she’d just kept her head down and not stirred up trouble that was as much an impediment to her agenda as it was the people transporting her.
That’s the problem with pure evil – no self control, no forward thinking. It’s always about instant gratification.
Whatever self control the movie has goes completely out of the window during the goofball finale when a Bruce Campbell appearance is the only thing preventing it from becoming Army of Darkness 2. Wall-crawling deadite monks drop from the ceiling like ninjas and the devil himself appears in the form of a gimpy gargoyle with a voice that carries all the menace of an Eighties’ cartoon villain’s incompetent henchman.
If the rest of Season of the Witch was as rousingly silly as the final fifteen minutes it would be a future cult classic. Neither the actors nor the screenwriter nor director Dominic Sena are capable of committing to a tone and sticking with it. The result is an uneven mishmash of 1960’s Hammer horror aesthetics and 1980’s Cannon action adventure sensibilities. Not good, but a barely passable timewaster, assuming you don’t give up during the drudgery of the movie’s middling and ultimately pointless midsection.
Ah, let’s just be honest here. Season of the Witch is probably as good as any movie could ever be that miscasts Nic Cage as a disillusioned knightly Crusader, has actors having just survived a demon attack sayings things like “We’re going to need more holy water” with a straight face, and includes a scene in which Ron Perlman – in a non-Hellboy role, mind you – repeatedly headbutts Satan.
The Blu-ray was not available at press time, but do we really need to tell you that the movie looks and sounds better in high definition? That’s pretty much a given by now. Moving on …
The DVD and Blu-ray extras are exactly the same in both packages and they include a commentary track, the theatrical trailer and a pair of short subjects showcasing the make-up, special effects work, and battle choreography. A couple deleted scenes give you a good idea why they were left on the cutting room floor, although one appeared to indicate that the movie originally introduced Cage and Perlman’s characters in an entirely different manner minus the battlefield crusading shown at the outset.
It wouldn’t be too surprising to find out the movie’s beginning was the product of reshoots when you watch the alternate ending that truly is alternate. Zombie monks attack but do not defy gravity and that digital devil with a goofy cartoon voice is nowhere to be seen. Roughly the same turn of events except this time with Claire Foy in spider vein make-up speaking in an Exorcist voice in place of the CGI Satan. I can kind of see why they felt this wasn’t inspired enough visually, though I’m not sure what possessed them to change it to something so preposterous. Regardless, without those preposterous moments, the season of this witch would be much gloomier.
2 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
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