#431: Season of the Witch
Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman vs Evil
Initial release: 2011
Director: Dominic Sena
You forgot about Dominic Sena, didn’t you? Despite some minor turn-of-the century hits under his belt (Swordfish, mostly) and the before-they-were-famous Brad Pitt/David Duchovny vehicle Kalifornia, Sena is something of an also-ran, mostly having built his career on music videos throughout the 80s and early 90s. He’s in good company: Nicolas Cage spent the better part of a decade being more meme than actor, infamous for his taste—or perceived lack thereof—in film roles; Ron Perlman, meanwhile, doesn’t need to take on all sorts of roles to have his face — or his voice — instantly recognizable, but it sure helps.
So here we are with Season of the Witch, not to be confused with Season of the Witch, or Season of the Witch. Given its pedigree, you could expect a reasonably bad movie — nothing atrocious, but certainly not good. And on some level, it is that; but it’s more than that, if only just.
Cage and Perlman play a pair of Crusaders who, disillusioned after long years of war, walk off the job and head back to Austria sometime in the 1340s. When they get back, they find the land overtaken by plague — real bad plague. Bodies line the filth-ridden streets; what’s left of the soldiery are less than kind. After being found out for deserters, our hapless heroes are tasked with a job that may save their life: escort a young woman, accused of witchcraft and blamed for the plague, to a distant abbey some six days’ walking away. She’s young, beautiful and frightened, but also incredibly strong for her size. Nevertheless, with a guide, a fellow knight, a priest, and a young wanna-be, the party heads off to the abbey. Along the way things quickly start going pear-shaped; accidental murder and a fatal wolf attack cuts the party down a couple of people, and the abbey itself is full of dead men, at which point the captive girl, whose behavior has been getting increasingly sinister, reveals herself to be not a witch, but something worse.
Cage and Perlman are the highlights as they bounce off each other in interesting ways, with Perlman playing to type while Cage puts in a rather understated performance as a world-weary ex-crusader. The script isn’t the worst thing ever committed to film, though the final act of the film perhaps isn’t all it could be, relying as it does on CGI that, while not horrible, isn’t great either. (It’s films like this that I feel that practical effects work better —if only out of tradition.)
Sena is a good director who makes okay films; he’s got technical talent, painting a gloomy, gothic Austria in the midst of plague with aplomb, and he knows when to show things and when to slip things in just off-camera for extra drama. For all its faults, Season of the Witch is a far better film than Swordfish, and it doesn’t even have a topless Halle Berry in it.