Thursday, January 6, 2011

Season of the Witch: some had it coming

After experiencing an unexpected moment of moral clarity while thrusting his blade through the belly of some helpless woman during the smoky Battle of Smyrna, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and his grizzled old infidel-slaying buddy Felson (Ron Perlman) resolve to quit the Crusades and return to a plague-ridden Europe where everybody everywhere speaks English and have gone without shampoo for longer than anyone can remember. Picked up by some eagle-eyed church cops for desertion, Behmen and Felson decide to take an escort gig rather than face execution. Their destination is some remote mountain-top monastery, their cargo a wily teenager (Claire Foy) charged single-handedly causing the Black Death via witchcraft. Thing is, that accusation might just turn out to be entirely accurate, so you could say
Season of the Witch starts out as a remake of The Seventh Seal, with Cage modelled after Von Sydow and Perlman after Björnstrand, turns into a Dungeons & Dragons module, pays homage to The Exorcist during its climactic supernatural showdown, while the whole thing could be interpreted as an apologia for the Inquisition, an implication exacerbated by the film’s entirely superfluous, essentially unrelated prelude concerning a conscientious priest who gets iced by an accused witch whose death by hanging he oversaw earlier that same day. But it might be grossly overestimating the ambitions of this project to presume any sort of polemic, even such an inanely misogynist one.

The reunion of Cage and Dominic Sena, who directed the actor in his remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, should have at least offered some super-stupid fun, but there’s an almost puzzling stiltedness to Season of the Witch. Cage seems largely disinterested, even in the bits where he gets to bark or convey spells of post-traumatic stress disorder. Sena meanwhile seems to be lacking decent coverage for virtually every scene, so many of which end with lingering close-ups of hammy reaction shots, that enduring convention of daytime soaps. Scripter Bragi F. Schut—not, from what I can tell, a pseudonym—resorts to medieval melodrama clichés and dialogue so comically leaden as to invoke Monty Python: “Damned fog. Like a veil before my eyes!”

But producers Alex Garter and Charles Roven should share some blame too, given that it looks like far too much of the film’s relatively limited budget was spent on umpteen needless crane shots and abysmally poor CGI, which winds up gauzed over everything from splintering bridges to apparently supernatural wolves to vast History Channel battle scenes. The zombie monks shamble about like puppets—could they not have just used puppets?

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