Season of the Witch
Directed by Dominic Sena
Written by Bragi F. Schut
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy
RunTime: 95 minutes too long
Face it, sinners, Christianity has a lot to answer for – the Crusades, the Inquisition, torture-induced confessions and drowning of innocent girls as witches, tedious exorcisms, martyrdom at the stake – even the sacking of the great library of Alexandria. All of the above feature in the latest Cage vehicle, except for that last one, which could be in the next; who knows?
P.T. Barnum’s crack – about how nobody ever went broke from underestimating the intelligence of the American people – is to blame for much of this religious zealotry in cineplexes right now.
And to this blazing pyre of infamy we must add Nicolas Cage’s bouncing medieval ‘do in Season of the Witch. His frightlocks beg for a do-rag, giving him a startled look, as if he’d wandered in from “The Wire” or “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Or perhaps he just realized what he’d got himself into. Filmed in Hungary and Austria, and Pula in Croatia, Season of the Witch wallows in gorgeous, Transylvania-evoking mountain scenery. It features all the usual medieval horrors, from bloody Crusades to the Plague and its disfiguring effects on CGI artists, plus much ducking of witches.
It might have been that rocking ‘do or the CGIs, or maybe the cooking pot that fell on my head just as I was running out to the theater, but this new Cage blockbuster has head-throbber written all over it.
“It plays like the bastard child of Name of the Rose and Monty Python,” I remarked to the rapt kid beside me. “Who? Never heard of them, I’m too young,” he riposted.
Cage is indeed a Christian martyr to take on this torturous ordeal. So is his valiant fellow Crusader Felson, known to us as Ron Perlman. But no fee could possibly do penance for this sin.
As buddy movies go, this moves. Together the pair slaughter infidels by the thousand, in battle after bloody battle, but run away after a massacre of women and children, the softies! They then sneak into a stricken town, only to be arrested for desertion and find the Bubonic plague raging around them.
Informed by a priest (Stephen Campbell Moore) that the source of this evil scourge is a pretty young girl (Claire Foy), they face a hideous death unless they escort her to trial at Saveyrac, an abbey where monks will decide a ghastlier fate for her. They volunteer, picking up a squire (Robert Sheehan), a peddler (Stephen Graham), and the priest’s cookbook of old spells.
At this point the movie directly plagiarizes The Seventh Seal as well as the paintings of Breughel, but I didn’t point this out to my transfixed neighbor. The witch is chained in a prison cart that rumbles along in true Bergman style. Along the way they drag the witch’s cart over a slatted bridge above a ravine into Wormwood Forest, where they encounter a pack of Rin Tin Tins.
Well, actually they’re wolves that morph from cuddly German shepherds into CGI werewolves. Sadly, at this point we lose a couple of cuddly actors to CGI Rin Tin Tins, and we wonder if they’re not better off, truth be told.
But ours is not to reason why! Thankfully, we still have the witch, and once you start looking for plot holes you’ll lose all Christian faith in the outcome – which our boys do too, after they reach the Abbey of Saveyrac. Here, local monks have also succumbed to the Plague, sporting pustulent boils that no amount of exorcist chanting can lance.
At this point, the Hungarian CGI department gets itself into a veritable Transylvanian frenzy, with monks morphing into screeching bats and a satanic figure in the rafters, all of it prompting me to mutter “Dracula… Frankenstein… Bosch!” “What?” asked my neighbor. When the Crusaders meet their doom and the witch rides away with the squire, he heaved a sigh of relief, and asked me if I thought it would do well at the box office. “Not a doubt in my mind,” I said.