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Entries in Season of the Witch [2011] (1)


Season of the Witch (2011)

Bored, and Sorcery

First thing’s first.  Season of the Witch is not a remake of Halloween III starring Nicolas Cage (God, if only).  It's a Crusades fable about two disillusioned knights hired to transport a peasant girl to an uber-monastery, where an ancient order of monks will try her for witchcraft and, in doing so, hopefully end the plague.

“Huh?” is the appropriate reaction.

But the head scratching doesn’t stop with the premise.  Much like that other beloved Crusades epic, Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, many of the actors in this film don’t even bother with accents.  As the noble Behemen, Cage occasionally slips into something that might resemble the King’s English if heard through a seashell; but his sidekick, Felson, as played by Ron Perlman, just sounds like Hellboy.  Most perplexing of all is the choice made by Stephen Graham, who plays a merchant/guide named Hagamar.  Graham speaks with a heavy Chicago accent—likely a holdover from his work as Al Capone on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire; this is notable because the actor is British, begging the question, why not go with the—shit, never mind…

The story is the classic Hero’s Journey Through Treacherous Landscapes that we’ve seen done better in The Lord of the Rings and worse in the most recent Harry Potter film; which is to say that, despite all the awful things you’ve suspected and heard about Season of the Witch, it’s not a terrible movie.  It’s too boring and middle-of-the-road for that.  In truth, it starts really well and has a great climax.  It’s that glop in the middle and at the end that proves troublesome.

I’d at least hoped for some payoff to the delicious notion that the peasant girl (Claire Foy) might not actually be a witch, but rather a convenient pawn in the church’s quest to hold onto power.  But through the course of the movie, in which Behemen, Felson, Hagamar, and their stock companions (Sinister Priest, First Guy to Bite It, and Tatooine Farmer Kid) make their way across rickety bridges and fend off demonic wolves, it becomes clear that there really is something supernatural going on with The Girl (yes, that’s her character’s name).

If you don’t want to know the big secret of Season of the Witch, I suggest you turn back now.  But, honestly, are you ever going to watch this movie?  The Girl is not a witch.  She is, however, possessed by a demon whose goal is to reach the monks’ sanctuary and prevent them from duplicating the ancient book of rites that can stop him and his ilk from playing around in our world.  It’s unclear why he has to be smuggled inside The Girl, especially since he pretty much just flies right into the monastery after being doused with holy water and getting set on fire.

The other big question is where all his little demon minions had been hiding during the rest of the movie; they come out in full force, possessing the bodies of plague-ridden monks during the climax.  I’ll forgive the Vatican-sized plot-holes here because this is the only ten minutes out of ninety that are any fun.  The surviving members of the Good Guy Crew slash and shove their way through hideous monsters while the Sinister Priest and Tatooine Farmer Kid take turns reading the exorcism incantation.  It’s exactly the same scene as the climax of Evil Dead 2, except with more actors and chainmail.  Before this scene, I thought the only thing director Dominic Sena knew how to do was film boring horseback conversations against green screens, but when the crazed monks started flying out of bookcases, I realized he could also ape Sam Raimi like nobody's business.

The biggest problem with Season of the Witch is its mediocrity.  It’s not consistently funny enough to make the lineup of anyone’s Bad Movie Night, and it’s not original, interesting, or well-made enough to be taken seriously.  Okay, maybe that’s not fair; I saw it this afternoon in a theatre that was way more crowded than it should have been, with an audience that included a woman who let out an “Mmmm” at the end of the new Anthony Hopkins movie trailer (not a hunger-satisfied, “Mmmm”, but the kind you utter involuntarily when someone shares profound wisdom).  So, sure, this movie will have its fans.  But as a great man once said, the world needs gas station attendants, too.