In order to make Season of the Witch director Dominic Sena and writer Bragi F. Schut must have used a time machine-- not to return to the Middle Ages when the movie is set, but to a time before parodies of Crusades movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, movies that make the likes of Season of the Witch seem utterly ridiculous. If it weren't for the presence of Nicolas Cage and some CGI work near the end Season of the Witch would seem completely like a relic from an earlier time, full of wooden acting, stolid plot and a lack of self-awareness that runs it aground in nearly the first moment. Without ever making the leap over into the enjoyably ludicrous, the movie stretches reality and history to the breaking point, not to mention the audience's patience as well.
You know what you're buying into for a movie featuring Nicolas Cage in a suit of armor fighting the forces of hell, but Season of the Witch manages to be remarkably dull anyway, kicking off with a silly and incoherent montage of the Crusades and leading into a ton of monologuing from various stoic noblemen before the film's main quest can begin. Cage's character Behman and his war buddy Felson (Ron Perlman) are, for one strained reason or another, charged with transporting an accused witch (Claire Foy) to an abbey where she'll either be proven innocent or cured of her witchcraft. They assemble a team, like you do on any good road trip, and all the familiar types are here: the good-hearted knight (Ulrich Thomsen), the maybe-villainous priest (Stephen Campbell Moore), the rogue who inexplicably speaks in a New York accent (Stephen Graham) and the wide-eyed youth (Robert Sheehan) aspiring to greatness. Oh, and there's the witch of course, who crouches in the back of a paddywagon alternately glowering at the men and looking at them, doe-eyed, for sympathy.
Believe it or not there are some interesting ideas floating around in the background here, as we follow disillusioned Crusader Behman through his denial of the Church and slow realization that the devil and witchcraft may be real after all. The buddy relationship between Behman and Felson works, even if it's something we've seen a hundred times, and a handful of the action sequences-- especially a spectacularly bizarre one at the finale-- hit their marks well. But nearly everything else about the movie works against those positives, from terrible expository writing that requires each character to narrate their own actions to the mishmash of accents that somehow seem to be a deliberate choice by the filmmakers. Dragging it all down even further, sadly, is Cage, who switches into "wet-eyed tender-hearted" mode and stares mournfully at the middle distance through most of the movie, never cracking a smile or breaking into the unhinged loon you may well have paid to see.
It's unclear what Sena thinks he's brought us with Season of the Witch-- is he aware he's going for a midnight movie lark, or is he truly making the untold Crusades witchcraft saga we never knew we wanted?-- but even less clear what the audience is supposed to do with it. It's not nearly funny or weird enough to see with friends after a few drinks, and despite some impressive locations it doesn't have enough visual appeal to simply watch on mute one of these days on cable. Cage completists may be interested to see what happens when he tries to play it straight in a movie that requires something stranger, but even that should only be done with the fast-forward button firmly in hand.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich
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