Season Of The Witch (2011) Review (PG-13)

This probably isn’t a ringing endorsement, but I didn’t hate this movie. I expected it to be ridiculous as I would expect from a PG-13 CGI laden fantasy film set during the 14th century featuring ‘genuine’ witches, one Nicolas Cage and Ron perlman as his sidekick. I like Cage. He’s willing to try anything. His films range from brilliant (Adaptation) to the extremely less than brilliant (The Wicker Man remake). Throw in Ron Perlman making terrible contemporary wisecracks and you might expect this to go straight to DVD. But…

I kind of liked it.

Whoa, whoa, WHOA! I didn’t say that I LOVED it. I just liked it. Between the weak attempts at macho humor with half hearted poor English accents by Cage and Perlman, there’s actually an adequate story.

It begins in 14th century Europe with three women who are about to be hanged for witchcraft. I say about to be… they ARE hanged. A priest is on hand with an ancient tome that he recite from to make sure that the witches don’t come back from the dead. The soldiers on hand call it a day, leaving the priest to his ritual. Of course one of the women IS a witch and she does indeed rise from the dead. before he can say the necessary incantations the witch kills him.

We then cut to the protagonist Behman (Cage) and his trusted friend Felson (Perlman), both knights happily crusading along with their army winning one battle after another, year after year.. UNTIL… Behman accidentally kills a woman. Pillaging is fine, but killing women and children is where he draws the line. Soon after the incident Behman and Felson are deserting their duties and traveling through lands ravaged by the Black Plague. As soon as they park their horses, there are people who suspect that they may have something to do with the Plague. When it’s revealed  (by their crests) that they are deserters is when things really start to ‘go down’. They are arrested and brought before the local Cardinal (the legendary horror icon Christopher Lee) who is suffering from the Plague.

The Cardinal strikes up a a deal with the two knights to save their necks. There is young girl that the locals have in custody that they want to be taken to a monastery populated by ninja monks. Okay, they’re not ninjas, but they aren’t ordinary monks.

According to the Cardinal, this particular girl (Claire Foy, above) may be a witch responsible for the troubles of the kingdom. The monks are the only ones that can both determine if the girl is a witch and can use their special skills to de-witchify her.

There is a small group put together to accompany the knights that includes a priest to oversee things, a young alter boy and  few others to die along the way to show how harrowing the journey is while Perlman cracks wise and Cage grows more and more concerned about the events. This pretty much sets up much of the film. The main question is determining whether or not this hot young thang is a witch or a victim of widespread hysteria. Since you saw what happened earlier in the film (the witch rising from the dead, flying and killing a priest), you can kind of guess what the answer to that will be. I know I did.

The cinematography and sets are decent once they get past some of the cheap looking CGI in the early moments. This does have the ‘proper’ architectural aesthetics that you have to have to sell this kind of film. The costumes look a little ‘syfy channel-ish’ early on but look  a bit better once they’ve moved past the extremely repetitive early war scenes. They could have just said that they fought for 12 years instead of showing it battle by battle with nothing changing except the backgrounds slightly. Anyway,  the film does have a little twist towards the end that will probably be somewhat obvious to most watching this, but I didn’t mind that. I also didn’t mind scenes that seemed lifted from other films (Sorcerer came to mind and it’s not even a fantasy film). Despite all of the guff that he gets as an actor, Cage generally gives an effort even in his worst films. He doesn’t exactly seem at home in this genre, but I bought it. I felt the same way about Perlman. The two of them almost seemed to be existing in a parallel universe (maybe from films of the 1980s) while everyone else was in a slick, mainstream watered down fantasy flick getting mixed results from the CGI FX.

I have to admit I enjoyed watching this. Much like the horror genre, fantasy is littered with celluloid calamity. There’s a lot out there, but it’s often done poorly. This is one of the exceptions. It’s definitely not in the class of the best fantasy films (the Lord Of the Rings films, Time Bandits, Dragon Slayer, etc), but it’s worthy for a viewing if you’re fan of the genre. Even if you’re not, the story is still engaging enough to hold your interest for an hour and a half. It just might be one of those films that you forget about a week later.

3.5 of 5

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