Season of the Witch
I really can’t explain Season of the Witch. It’s not an action film, since the fight scenes are too few and far-between. It’s not a suspense film, because no suspense is actually allowed to build. And it’s not a mystery film, since nothing is ever in any real doubt. Probably the best way to understand it is as a rogue buddy-cop movie, except here they’re a pair of dark-age crusaders.
We start with three women being accused of witchcraft: they’re hanged and then drowned. This suffices for most of the observers, but one priest insists on hauling them up to read a ritual from his copy of the Book of Solomon to prevent their return. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite finish the job on his own. The scene is almost completely pointless, besides assuring the audience that despite our modern viewpoints, the movie takes place in a world where witchcraft and the like are indeed real. Of course, this pretty much goes without saying, and a side effect of saying it is to ruin the later attempts to bring that fact into question. It can’t really be understood until the very end, and only then if you specifically look back to reconsider it.
Anyway, now we move to the knights Behmen (Nicholas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman), who are introduced to us through a quick montage of twelve years they’ve spent alternately crusading and carousing through the lands of the infidels. But one day Behmen looks down to see that it’s an unarmed woman on the business end of his sword. In a moment, he and Felson turn about and renounce their vows to the Church’s crusades.
A month later, they’re arrested as deserters in a city that’s afflicted with a plague. The Cardinal (a cameo by Christopher Lee) tells them that a girl (Claire Foy) has confessed to being a witch and bringing the plague on the land. She must be taken to an abbey some hundreds of leagues away where the only remaining copy of the Book of Solomon can be used to purge her powers and disperse the plague. As an aside, we’re told this will be about six days’ travel but since a league was supposed to measure an hour’s watch the language is just more window-dressing. Anyhow, they’re to be sent with another knight who’s lost his family from the plague (Ulrich Thomsen) and a priest (Stephen Campbell Moore). Along they way they’ll also pick up a scrappy young wannabe-knight (Kay).
Behman and Felson have to take this assignment as their punishment for desertion, and Behman agrees to it on the condition that she receive a “fair trial”, whatever that means. It’s exactly the sort of overwrought pseudo-high-mindedness Cage gnaws to the bone in his worst moments. Felson, for his part, rolls with whatever comes his way, not really caring whether the girl really is a witch or not. Perlman does as good a job as can be expected with this sort of sidekick role, and I rather wish we’d seen more of him. But it doesn’t really matter, since it’s a transparent attempt to inject some sort of mystery into the journey, and yet at every turn it’s made abundantly clear that this girl is the furthest thing from innocent.
Most of the film’s budget has been blown within the first half hour, and there’s really nothing in the rest that makes it worth paying attention to. Here’s hoping Cage does better in Drive Angry in a couple months.
Worth it: no.
Bechdel test: fail.