Season of the Witch (2011)
After years of war, two 14th century Crusaders (Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman) returns to a homeland devastated by the Black Plague. The church, deeming sorcery to be the source of the outbreak, tasks the knights to transport an accused witch (Claire Foy) to a remote abbey, where monks will perform a ritual in hopes of ending the pestilence. A priest, a grieving knight, a disgraced trader and an altar boy who dreams of becoming a knight, join the mission across a hostile wilderness. The group soon finds itself at odds with each other over the fate of the girl. When the embattled party finally arrives at the abbey, a horrific discovery jeopardises the knight's pledge to ensure the girl fair treatment, pitting them against an inexplicably powerful and destructive force. Will good or evil triumph?
Season of The Witch was submitted to the MPAA for rating twice, prior to release, as the studio tried to secure a “suitable” rating for the movie. The film itself spent an entire year between completion of the production and its theatrical release as various parties tinkered with its final edit. The script had been in development since 2000 and had been passed from both MGM and Columbia pictures before finally being produced by Relatively Media. Despite some striking location work around Eastern Europe, suitable castles and associated building from the required period could not be found. Thus, a great deal of material had to be shot against green screens and added digitally in post-production. However, budgetary restraints had an impact upon this work and its quality. All of these factors are usually indicative of a troubled production, resulting in a flawed film. Sadly, Season of the Witch very much fits that bill.
Season of The Witch is glaringly narratively and tonally inconsistent. The characters are insufficiently developed as are the themes. The story is very derivative and the content conspicuously edited to secure the commercially viable PG-13/12A rating. However, smitten by a fit of unusual generosity, I have to admit that I did enjoy the film. This is mainly because of Ron Pearlman's presence and a handsome production design that is very reminiscent of Hammer studios work and Roger Corman's Poe adaptations. Like 2012 release of Solomon Kane, the film manages to look a lot more sumptuous than it actually is due to its Hungarian and Croatian locations. Furthermore, although the action scenes and set pieces have been very tightly edited for rating reasons, they are still well conceived due to the presence of veteran stunt co-ordinator Vic Armstrong.
The story of two Teutonic Knights escorting a suspected witch to a remote castle for trial, through a world devastated by the Black Death, often comes across as pythonesque. This is mainly due to the similarities in the depiction of the Medieval world. I was also reminded of Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky that has a similar grimy depiction of the time. The story is episodic and offers very few surprises. It is entertaining in a very undemanding way and the night attack by wolves in the fog bound forest, is actually well executed. There are even some occasional nods to Ingmar Berman which seem curiously hubristic. However, overall Season of The Witch is an inconsistent viewing experience and a film that falls between several stools. It doesn’t seem to find a level that it is comfortable with, very much like director Dominic Sena's previous film Whiteout. Therefore, only watch is you are feeling tolerant, forgiving and are the most ardent Nicholas Cage fan.