Friday, August 5, 2011
Season of the Witch (2011)
Slightly better than Black Death (2010; see review here), Season of the Witch (2011) likewise deals with Christianity vs. witchcraft and resultant plagues. It is more than a little difficult to take such films seriously. If the Church were truly fighting paganistic cults or demonic forces to keep humanity from succumbing to world-ending plagues, we shouldn't be making low and mid-budget actioners about it. On the other hand, treating the excesses of the Church in an often blind desire to do something as fodder for the same type of movie seems disrespectful to the history and the people wronged by the Church. Where Black Death tries to make that ambiguity work, Season of the Witch seeks only to exploit it as a backdrop for Behman (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) to swing some swords and kill people, animals, and the demonically inhabited undead.
Ultimately, Season of the Witch suffers from a few too many problems. It effectively has three different beginnings – the first of which ruins the entire is she/isn't she debate about the witch in question – and none of them do a particularly good job of giving the story a proper entrance. Then we have a very liberal presentation of the Crusades (taking place after the Ninth Crusade, so not really in The Age of Crusades as advertised), including the defeat of the Turkish pirates in the Gulf of Edremit being a giant land battle fought in Turkey's famous sand dunes. The movie also move the Siege of Tripoli by two centuries and treats individual crusaders as though they have enlisted in some organized, centralized army (and are not serving lords pledged to a Crusade). But the most glaring problem is that there is no consistent tone.
Season of the Witch could have made itself perfectly enjoyable if it had adopted a lighter tone with a wink and a nod towards treating the production as a live action cartoon of sorts. Both Cage and Perlman excel in playing characters who can work a sense of humor into any situation, so why not let them play for more genuine laughs? Why not let them find some fun in the dread of the unknown and the witch's apparent powers? Instead, the film settles for an almost dark tone much of the time, broken by ineffectual humor or morose plodding.
On the nit-picking level, I would have appreciated it were that someone on set could have told any of the actors that holding a torch in one's sightline pretty much ruins the benefit of having the light. While much of the terrain looks good, I have to think that a better cinematographer would have gotten more mileage out of it. The action is also mostly uninspiring and does little to keep the viewer's interest. The exception to this are the demonic wolves; when the wolves shift with power, it looks both cool and menacing. Sure, it also looks a little cheesy, but it works. Of course, those same wolves don't really do anything.
I wouldn't recommend Season of the Wtich outright. It doesn't make good use of the actors or the potential of the story. Still, there is something there that keeps it from being wholly disappointing. I have to imagine that it is possible that others would be able to find just what that elusive quality is, and they would be able to enjoy the movie on its own merits.