The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"SEASON OF THE WITCH"

Season of the Witch
Ron Perlman and Nicolas Cage go in search of a plot.

On my Twitter account, I have a regular thing I call "Movies You Probably Forgot Existed." Essentially, I list a movie that I'm pretty sure no one has watched or even thought of in a long time (i.e. Kathleen Turner in V.I. Warshawski, Patrick Dempsey in Run, etc.). The purpose is simply to be funny, to make my Twitter followers have that strange little mental disorientation you get when someone reminds you of something you'd forgotten about. I'm pretty sure that, if I keep this up, I will someday in the future tweet the words "Movie You Probably Forgot Existed: Nicolas Cage in Season of the Witch."

Cage is wildly miscast as a knight named Behmen who, with partner/pal Felson (Ron Perlman), has defected from the church's army after fighting the Crusades. The two are imprisoned for their defection, then offered an unexpected chance at freedom. The Black Plague has overtaken their homeland, and the church believes a witch has caused it. Behmen and Felson are asked to transport the alleged witch - a young woman (Claire Foy) referred to only as "the girl" - to a distant abbey where monks will destroy her and end the curse. And so they set off on a journey, along the way encountering the stuff you usually find in these sorts of stories: rickety old suspension bridges, wolf attacks, demons, etc.

There are so many things wrong with Season of the Witch. Cage doesn't even try here; he simply phones his performance in. The special effects look like something from 1993. The production values are on the level of an Uwe Boll flick. The battle scenes are filmed so that you can't tell who's doing what to whom. Much of the plot revolves around whether the young woman is or is not a witch, yet the film makes absolutely no attempt to develop her character, thereby creating a black hole at the center of the story into which everything else gets sucked.

All that stuff serves to make this a very bad picture. But what really puts Season of the Witch on a special level of awfulness is its tone. This will be hard to explain, but I'll do my best. Watching the movie, I couldn't shake the feeling that it might have been conceived and filmed as a comedy, then edited so that it plays like a thriller. It's difficult to shake the impression that Witch was second-guessed somewhere along the way, leaving it with the odd tone it possesses in its final form. This is a movie in which Ron Perlman head butts a demon - twice. One character is named "Debelzaq" which the others all pronounce as "da ball sack." There's a reference to a famous line of dialogue from Jaws; one character, in preparing to fight a demon, quips "we're going to need more holy water."

This stuff seems goofy to me, yet Season of the Witch doesn't appear to be winking at itself. It's filled with ominous music, and moments intended to scare or shock. The pacing hits all the beats you'd expect from a thriller with supernatural elements. Consequently, I sat there in disbelief, completely not knowing what I was seeing or what to make of it. Some of this stuff can't possibly be serious, yet the movie seems to take itself very seriously. I know Witch has been sitting on the studio shelf for about half a year after abruptly being pulled from its late summer 2010 release date. Is it possible that the whole thing was overhauled? It sure feels like it.

This may be Nic Cage's worst film ever. And I know some of you are going to scream Wicker Man and Bangkok Dangerous at me, and maybe a few other titles as well. I won't deny that those are terrible too. Season of the Witch is a real unique kind of awful, though. With Cage's other bad pictures, you can kind of see where, with better execution, they might have been okay. This one, though, is so inconsistent and bizarre that it's impossible to see how it could have been good under any circumstance. Like I said, it's destined to be forgotten.

( out of four)


Season of the Witch is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.