Season of the Witch

Directed by Dominic Sena

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Season of the Witch (hereafter referred to as SOTW) is a curious little film. I say that because it seems like the filmmakers couldn’t make up their minds on what type of movie they wanted to make. Horror or action? Instead of picking one, they compromised and decided to do both. The result is a 95 minute mess. A well made mess, but a mess nonetheless. Now, let me stop for a second to say, I enjoyed the 90+ minutes that I invested on this film and didn’t feel like the six dollars I spent were wasted. But Lord of the Rings, this ain’t.

SOTW is about two 14th century Crusade knights who, fed up with the endless killing in the Holy lands, desert and return to Eastern Europe. Once there, they come upon a land rife with plague. At the heart of the pestilence is a girl (Claire Foy, named only ‘the girl’ in the credits) who is believed to be the witch that unleashed the plague. This supposed witch is to be sent to a faraway monastery where she will be tried and killed, thereby lifting the curse and ending the plague. Our two knights, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) are quickly recruited by the local Cardinal (Christopher Lee – I know, wow, the dude’s gotta be 80!) to transport the witch. If they accept, the Church will forgive them for deserting the Crusades.

Behmen and Felson are joined by a fellow knight named Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen) a priest named Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Kay, (Robert Sheehan) a knight wannabe. Rounding out the intrepid band is Hagamar, (Stephen Graham) a trader who knows the way to the monastery. But is the girl really a witch? Debelzaq is convinced of her guilt, but he is a priest and might just have the Church’s best interests at heart. Or, maybe she is a scapegoat, like Eckhart thinks, and the Church is intent on killing her to show the local populace that they have the answer to the plague? But if she is a scapegoat, then who or what is unleashing the deadly illusions and packs of CGI wolves that appear almost immediately? And what about the Davy Jones eyes that the Girl and Kay share?

The last reel features the final CGI overload showdown at the monastery against the ‘true’ evil of the film.

The look of the film was pretty good. The dark, menacing woods were quite effective, and the makeup effects were good. As far as the acting went, it was OK. Both Cage and Perlman clearly had a boat payment due, and don’t really bring anything extra to the film. Along with the rest of the cast, they gamely try, but the limited script doesn’t give them much to work with.

The same can be said for Dominic Sena’s direction. He seems to know what to do, but the script handcuffs him into going straight down cliché alley for most of the picture. Again, I think that the initial decision by the producers to hedge their bets and try to make a combination horror-action picture (and a PG-13 one at that) instead of going all in on one genre or the other, doomed SOTW to mediocrity.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

This type of thing is obviously perfect for D&D. Although for a truly engaging story, the journey would have to be fleshed out a bit, with a few more encounters along the way. Maybe some more bits of story expo to help prove the girl’s innocence or guilt.

As far as role-playing goes, there is nothing wrong with the secret agenda. For a veteran gaming group, one of the players could even tackle the character of the witch. Now that can be fun. She can plead her innocence and try and turn the other characters to her side, all the while, setting them up for the big fall. Or not; maybe she is just a pawn. There are a lot of ways to go on that. And lots of ore to mine, with the right group of players.

When SOTW finally reaches the monastery, we find that all the monks there are dead from the plague. The witch is not really a witch at all, but is in fact a demon possessing the girl. It seems that the demon needed to be brought to this monastery to get a holy book of Christian rights and chants (there’s always a holy book!)  This triggers a massive battle against the CGI beastie, who suddenly is just another monster to be hacked and slashed. I really hate it when films do that. Here we have a demon who for the whole movie is hiding in a girl’s body and perpetuates this witch-plague story so it will be taken to this monastery, yet once it gets there, it quickly becomes this winged fire breathing dragon-like beastie that looks like it could have saved everybody the 95 minutes and just flown to the monastery and grabbed the book on its own. I guess that in this age of movie making, the audience is expecting the climactic battle, so this is what we get.

‘Course, what do I know?