Title: Season of the Witch
Director: Dominic Sena
Screenplay: Bragi F. Schut
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman
Released: June 27 2011
Length: 98 minutes
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from 27 June 2011
After years of brutal warfare in God’s name, a heroic knight (Nicolas Cage) and his closest aide (Ron Perlman) return from the Crusades drained of their taste for bloodshed and disillusioned by the Church. The knight arrives to find his homeland shattered by the Black Death, and having returned from fighting prematurely, both men are apprehended and forced to embark upon a dangerous mission to avoid prison for desertion. The knight is instructed to take a prisoner of the church, an accused witch thought to be responsible for the Plague, to a monastery where she will undergo a ritual to free their lands of her curse. Fearing her to be a scapegoat, the knight agrees to accompany her. But their route is treacherous, taking them across sheer-walled gorges and into the punishing depths of wolf-infested forests, and as the knights fellow travellers begin to succumb, one-by-one, to misfortune, it becomes apparent that his most terrifying enemy yet is much closer to home.
If you’d read any of my previous reviews of films starring Nicolas Cage then you will know that I’m a big fan. The Oscar winning star of films such as Wild At Heart, Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation, Cage has always been, in my opinion, an actor that is willing to be different and to really put his heart and soul into his performances on screen.
Yet recent reports of his financial difficulty (tax problems) has lead to speculation that Cage is doing a lot of new work in order to increase his income and sort out his problems. Whether or not this is true is debateable but he has been working a lot recently, having said that I do not think that he has chosen bad roles just for money. Not a bit of it. I believe that Cage chooses roles because they are different and interesting to him. Unlike actors that always seem to play a version of themselves – Adam Sandler, Jennifer Anniston, Ben Stiller – Cage has been all sorts of characters throughout his career. For instance think of Ghost Rider – he was a bounty hunter for the devil, Matchstick Men - he was a con man with obsessive compulsive disorder, Adaptation - he was a screenwriter with writers block and he also played his own fictional twin brother in the same film, City of Angels - he was an angel. I think it’s fair to say that Cage has had a varied career. He has always been daring and fearless in his choice of roles and has taken on characters across a broad spectrum, as well as appearing in very different films. I believe that he always commits 100% to his performances.
So what about Season of the Witch? It’s a supernatural action adventure. Okay, that sounds good. Who does Cage play? He’s a 14th century knight. Oh right, well that’s something we’ve not seen him do so far. It sounds like an interesting choice. But he’s a 14th century knight whose best friend happens to be Ron (Hellboy) Perlman. Oh. Really? I’m not a fan of Perlman. Well are they doing something exciting, fighting off baddies and doing some magic and whatnot? Well yes, there is a bit of that. It’s fun.
The two knights are given the job of taking a woman accused of being a witch to a remote monastery. Okay. That sounds like it might be filled with action and adventure. But here is where the film falls down a little. Because in all honesty it’s a bit boring. Frodo had a harder, more action-packed adventure than these two knights. Fair enough at the end of Season of the Witch director Dominic Sena turns up the heat and gives us an exciting finale but the mid section just lags really quite badly.
Is the girl that they are taking to the monastery a witch? Of-bloody-course-she-is! So why not make what she gets up to a bit more witchy and a bit more malevolent, a bit scarier? It’s not scary, well not until the end, when like I said Sena wakes up and gives us a terrifying ending. But it’s too little too late, the damage has been done to some extent. Where was Sena’s verve and panache that he showed us when he previously directed Nicolas Cage in Gone in Sixty Seconds?
The whole film is a bit too earnest for its own good. It’s dark and brooding and all medieval. There are swords and sorcery but something is wrong, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint it, so maybe I’m being overly harsh.
Cage and Perlman do their best but the script isn’t punchy enough and Sena’s lack of directorial verve lets the film and the actors down. There was potential here and it managed to fulfil some of it but just not quite enough to really stand out. And of course when you have a list of hit films, as Cage does, Season of the Witch will have a hard time measuring up to some of his other theatrical output. It’s a film that as a fan of Cage I will certainly watch again to enjoy the nuances of his performance but as a story, unfortunately, it didn’t exactly blow me away.