I think we all knew this was going to be a moose fellation party of some note based on the trailer, the release date and Nicolas Cage’s wig. Dominic Sena’s Season of the Witch does not disappoint. It is, however, the kind of determinedly awful movie that is too dumb to actually hate. This is, after all, a movie that thought to include—as so few movies do—ninja-zombie monks. I believe we can all agree that ninja-zombie monks are a boon to any movie. That said, Season of the Witch takes nigh on to forever to get to this cinematic salvation—and offers little compensation along the way, apart from spectacularly indifferent performances from Cage and Ron Perlman. My guess is that they were vaguely aiming for a Crosby and Hope vibe, but instead only managed to hit Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell in Tango & Cash (1989).
The movie is set in the 14th century. We know this because titles keep informing us of the year and what particular campaign of these historically sketchy Crusades our heroes—Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Perlman)—are on. I suspect this history was as useless to the rest of the audience as it was to me. (I also suspect that more than a couple of these battles are really pieced together from alternate takes of the same battle.) For some reason or other—maybe Behmen and Felson (doesn’t that sound like a borscht-belt comedy team?) aren’t too bright—it takes them about a dozen years to realize that maybe slaughtering folks, especially women and children, just because they’re not keen on Jesus, is not nice. This is all triggered when Behmen skewers a young woman in slow motion (this never happened before?) and he experiences a crise de conscience that somehow affects Felson, too. So they head back home.
Alas, the world has changed. A plague has ravaged everything and every place—at which point we realize that we’ve been watching the prequel for The Seventh Seal (1957). Unfortunately, Messrs. Cage and Perlman are no Max von Sydow and Gunnar Björnstrand. And director Dominic Sena is more like a less amusing Uwe Boll than Ingmar Bergman. Well, I guess it’s a good thing to aim high. The film does bring on the self-flagellating faithful and, of course, a witch (cosmically inept Brit TV actress Claire Foy). The witch becomes the focus of the film—or at least the transporting of her to some CGI and matte-painting monastery, where the last known copy of some mystical book with some spell that will assure her death is located.
How do our heroes fit into this? Well, they’ve been fingered as deserters from the Crusades, and plague-ridden Cardinal D’Ambroise (Christopher Lee in truly appalling makeup) makes them the irresistible offer of transporting the witch or being put to death. With the witch in a cage on wheels (just happened to be on hand), a dubious guide (Stephen Graham, Public Enemies), a mysterious, unlikable priest (Stephen Campbell Moore, The History Boys), a grieving father (Ulrich Thomsen, The International) and a callow youth (Irish TV actor Robert Sheehan), Behmen and Felson set out on their journey, which is fraught with peril and tedium—both of the clichéd variety.
OK, if you desire to be marginally surprised by the film, skip this paragraph. Turns out that the witch is something much worse—she is a girl possessed by Satan himself, who actually wants to get to the monastery in order to destroy the book in question. This revelation leads to the film’s funniest (unintentionally, I think) line, “We’re going to need more holy water.” It also leads to the zombified monks, lots of CGI Beelzebub biz and a tragic ending with laughably bad acting and a theoretically weepy graveside last scene (I’m still trying to figure out what is buried in the grave of the dead hero who was incinerated by old Scratch).
So what do we end up with? Well, a flat adventure movie with delusions of weightiness that turns into a rather silly, effects-ridden horror picture, and neither aspect is very compelling. The movie is also only occasionally in the “so bad it’s good” realm. Mostly, it’s in the groove of the ho-hum. Yet I can’t quite dislike it. All the same, my advice is still to hold out for Cage in Drive Angry 3-D next month. Now, that looks like quality entertainment. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content.