Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Dominic Sena

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Christopher Lee, Robert Sheehan, Ulrich Thompson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Stephen Graham.

Sneaking into cinemas without much fanfare is Season Of The Witch, a rather dull, disappointing and inherently silly sword and sorcery adventure set in 14th century Europe. This clunky $40 million production flopped at the US box office and is being thrown away by the local distributors before it disappears onto DVD.

The 14th century was a time of religious zealotry, the bloody Crusades, the plague, and ignorance and superstition. Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman play a couple of knights who have spent fourteen years waging war against the heathens throughout the Middle East and eastern Europe. But after growing disenchanted with the hypocrisy and bloody slaughter in the name of serving God, Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) leave the carnage behind and return home. There they find the towns in the grip of the Black Plague and the kind of religious fanaticism they thought they had left behind.

The pair are hired by a dying cardinal (a cameo from an almost unrecognizable Christopher Lee) to guard a suspected witch (Claire Foy), whom he believes to be the cause of the plague. They are to accompany her to a remote monastery where there is an ancient book that contains an incantation that will exorcise her.

Accompanying them on this odyssey is a motley crew. Kay (Robert Sheehan) is a young man eager to become a heroic knight regardless of the dangers he faces. Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen, from Susanne Bier’s excellent drama In A Better World, etc) is a stoic knight who has lost his entire family to the plague. Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore) is a zealous monk, while Hagamar (Stephen Graham) is an incompetent guide whom they release from the stocks in exchange for his knowledge of the treacherous path they have to follow. The journey itself is fraught with danger, especially as the witch uses her powers to cause confusion and panic amongst her captors.

Season Of The Witch is the first feature film written by Bragi F Schut, who has written for tv series Threshold and a couple of short films. The premise is interesting, but Schut’s script is muddled and uneven, and full of cliches, including the familiar frantic scramble across a crumbling wooden bridge over a ravine. Season Of The Witch takes the cliches of the buddy road movie and sets them against the background of medieval Europe. There is a somewhat contemporary flavour to much of the repartee between Behmen and Felson that hints at another type of movie altogether.

Season Of The Witch is yet another B-grade film that Cage is doing purely to bolster his bank balance, and it shows in his erratic performance which is full of his usual mannerisms and quirky touches. Cage seems willing to squander his talents on bland action fare like this and Bangkok Dangerous, etc, and the memory of his solid work in films like Leaving Las Vegas, Wild At Heart and Raising Arizona seem like a distant memory. Perlman (from Hellboy, etc) normally has a strong presence, but here it is not used to best advantage here.

The film has been directed in typically workmanlike fashion by Dominic Sena, who also directed Cage in the slick remake of Gone In 60 Seconds. A former director of music videos, Sena burst onto the scene with his edgy thriller Kalifornia, but has since made largely disappointing and formulaic action films like Whiteout, etc. His direction of some of the key action sequences is a little muddled, and his kinetic visual style is more suited to the video clips of his past. There are rumours that another director was brought in to do some extensive reshoots in the post production stages, which accounts for the different visual styles throughout.

There are some okay special effects in the climactic showdown with a demon, but the CGI effects are a little obvious in some of the early battle scenes. Veteran Iranian cinematographer Amir M Mokri (Lord Of War, National Treasure 2, etc) shot the film on locations in Austria and Hungary by and their wild beauty brings atmosphere to the setting.



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