Season of the Witch (2011)

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“All Hell will break loose”

Directed by Dominic Sena
Starring Nicholas Cage, Ron Perlman and Claire Foy

Two war-weary crusaders are charged with escorting a witch to a remote monastery, where she can be tried and the plague with which she has cursed the land dispelled.

After years of battle and sickened by the slaughter of Muslim civilians, Teutonic knights Behman (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) desert and head home across Europe. In Styria they are caught and charged by a dying Cardinal (Christopher Lee) with escorting an accused witch (Foy) to a remote monastery for trial. If guilty, the monks possess a book of holy rituals which can lift the curse of plague that she has placed upon the land.

As they travel, accompanied by another knight, a relic-selling conman and a priest, the witch seemingly works on their weaknesses to turn them against one another. When they reach the monastery, however, they find that their troubles are only just beginning, and that their supposed witch is something much worse.

What’s wrong with it?

The plot is dumb as rocks while you’re watching it, and crumbles on later consideration. The demon poses as a witch in order to be taken to the last copy of the Book of Solomon, an ancient Hebrew text written on parchment in medieval Latin. It engineers the deaths of a knight who wants to free the girl and the con man who wants to kill her in order to ensure it reaches the monastery, but no reason is given why – after the destination is mentioned in front of the girl – it can’t just make its own way.

The girl, the only female character, is something of a cipher. This is part of the plot, but it does leave the film as a rather ostentatiously manly affair. This is not in and of itself bad (although as part of the wider under-representation of women in film it certainly isn’t a step up), but the fact that the possessed girl is basically an evil ho-bag and the real girl a terrified victim (and naked for fully half of her unpossessed screen time, thanks to the demon incinerating her clothes during its transformation) is unimpressive.

I’m not convinced that Teutonic knights signed up to serve fixed tours of duty as portrayed, although Behman and Felson may have been mercenary auxiliaries of some kind.

What’s right with it?

Where Season of the Witch scores over, say, Black Death is its willingness to go balls to the wall in the final act, transitioning from mud and buboes to flaming demons and scuttling ninja corpse monks.

In addition, Claire Foy is really good as the creepy possessed girl (she is only given a name once the demon is exorcised, which is actually a good touch) and Perlman and Cage have a grand line in battle banter. Overall, the cast are impressive, even if their material isn’t the best in the world.

How bad is it really?

Like so many Nicholas Cage movies, Season of the Witch is a terrible movie that yet manages to be a hell of a lot of fun in its dumb, clunky way.

Best bit (if such there is)?

When the priest uses the Book of Solomon to try to cancel the witch’s curse, the girl responds by speaking in the voice of Behman and Felson’s former commander. Horrified, the priest declares: “That’s no witch,” and flips through the book to the demon exorcism page. After the demon breaks free, he looks to Behman and says: “We’re going to need more holy water.”

What can I say; I will always have time for a bigger boat gag.

What’s up with…?

  • The Book of Solomon? Solomon was a King of Israel. Yes, he as way into demonology and the Keys of Solomon are touchstone texts, but why is this one in Latin? Also, I’m sure that the Catholic Church ought to be way less enthusiastic about swinging for demons with Jewish ritual magics.

Ratings

Production values – Behman and Felson’s service in the Holy Land appears to have been part of the infamous Greenscreen Crusade. The film is better at presenting a grubby medieval backdrop (against which the actors’ teeth are alarmingly perfect) and falls down a little on the CG-heavy finale. 12
Dialogue and performances – Once more, a solid and professional cast play the fuck out of a pretty weak script, enlivened by some decent badinage. 14
Plot and execution – The plot is dumb, almost completely nonsensical, and peppered with random action scenes to keep the pace going. 13
Randomness – Randomness requires a base consistency that this film fundamentally lacks, and as a result nothing stands out as especially weird… aside from the Book of Solomon. 5
Waste of potential – Every Nicholas Cage movie is a train wreck waiting to happen. The same could be said of most medieval monster movies. That this is not a complete and utter failure almost counts as a triumph. 2

Overall 56%

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