'Season of the Witch' Review: Deficient, P.C. Tale of Evil vs. Magic

In “Season of the Witch,” disenchanted knight Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and his partner Felson (Ron Perlman) return to Europe after deserting what’s become a less-than-holy crusade. Upon their return, they find Europe devastated by a terrible plague, supposedly caused by a girl (Claire Foy) church leaders accuse of witchcraft. Cage’s guilt for atrocities committed during the crusade prompt him to accept a quest to deliver the girl to the monastery for what he hopes will be a fair trial. But on the way, mysterious tragedies befall them, and in the end, Cage and company realize that the trial they sought is nothing like the one they will encounter.

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For one of the first films of the year, “Season of the Witch” boasts a decent story and script. Screenwriter Bragi Schut’s dialogue, though blocky, fits the 1300s. While the film is deeper than most in the action-adventure genre, it’s inadequate one-dimensional characters limit its impact. There’s next to no back-story, so the film relies on the likability of lead actors Cage and Perlman (who play themselves, in armor) to keep viewers engaged. It’s not the best choice, since meaningful moments disintegrate into melodrama. Fortunately Perlman’s humor keeps the film light enough to avoid dragging in sentiment. Dynamic supporting characters also buoy the film, and Foy’s nuanced performance leaves you wondering who she really is until the end.

Box Office Mojo reported that the film cost about $40 million to make. Considering another crusade film “Kingdom of Heaven” cost about $130 million, “Season of the Witch” isn’t half bad, though it’s obvious the special effects budget took a hit, and director Dominic Sena (who also directed “Swordfish” and “Gone in 60 Seconds”) rightly panned over special effects quickly to avoid focusing on obvious CGI.

Sena didn’t scrimp on makeup though. The film’s gritty medieval world is populated by boiled, puss-filled plague victims (I was glad I didn’t have popcorn with me for this one) and the decay of medieval Europe shows in the squalid towns, weathered bridges, and slimy mass graves.

The film does, refreshingly, have a clearly evil villain. This isn’t a spoiler – it’s advertised in the trailer. In a modern world that often shuns the possibility of supernatural forces, this one acknowledges evil and fights it with good.

It’s just too bad that “good” only amounts to words on a page with mystical power. God isn’t recognized as good so much as an idea that can be perverted. In its best moments, while we see demonic power clearly, the power of God equals little more than incantations in a book, akin to a silver bullet or a Harry Potter spell. The film shows us the power of darkness clear enough. It just scrimped on the Light.

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