Season of the Witch

Release Date: January 7, 2011

This is a joke movie, right?

On the Big Board
Position Staff In Brief
164/171 Max Braden They gave it all away too early. If they had kept you waiting a little longer I think it would have been better. Claire Foy is creepy good.

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Nicolas Cage is one of a handful of actors who enjoys fairly devoted fan following, thanks in part to his unique acting style, and his tendency to occasionally produce outstanding work. There are two versions of Nicholas Cage, and there are those who find the first appealing thanks to films such as Valley Girl and Con Air, while there are those who prefer the second, seen in Adaptation and Leaving Las Vegas. This is a subject of frequent debate among his fans, and there are almost as many theories on the subject as there are about crop circles. Whether fair or not, Cage has a reputation for settling on projects that while often profitable, are frequently of rather poor quality. I don’t know anybody who saw Knowing and enjoyed it, but they still saw it. Many people came out of Ghost Rider holding their nose, but then again nobody forced them to watch a movie about a guy who rides a motorcycle with his head on fire. As a result, the man does appear in a lot of poor movies that still do well at the box office, and often well enough to warrant a sequel. National Treasure was a very silly movie but like much of Cage’s work, it was a harmless and not entirely unpleasant diversion. Enough people seemed to agree that they made a sequel, and they will probably keep making them as long as we all continue to go.

At the end of the day, Cage strikes me as the sort of actor who may watch for projects that are artistically compelling, but when something comes along that looks like a home run he takes it, almost regardless of what it is. I can’t say there’s much I wouldn’t do for $20 million, so it’s hard to hold it against him. But this doesn’t change the fact that much of the time when you’re considering a Nicolas Cage film, you’re going to have to use a bit of logic to determine whether it’s worth your time. I call the process "connecting the dots" and it involves putting together a short list of facts about the film and divining a picture from it. You compare what you see with what you were hoping to see, and from that you should be able to decide whether or not the film is something you’re likely to spend your money on. Let’s apply this method now to Cage’s latest effort, the supernatural thriller Season of the Witch

The film revolves around a pair of medieval knights (Cage and Ron Pearlman) who return from the Crusades to find their home devastated by the Black Plague. As tends to happen in times of uncertainty, hysteria and paranoia are rampant, leading to the arrest of a young woman (Claire Foy) on accusations of witchcraft. Alleged to be the cause of the scourge, the mysterious woman is imprisoned and scheduled for transport to a faraway abbey where monks will attempt to exorcise the pestilence. Naturally, our two war weary knights are given the task. Their faith in humanity shaken by the horrors of battle, they dutifully accept the dangerous test with all the cynicism you’d expect from any good movie hero – probably because they know just as we do that the trip isn’t going to go as planned. The story sounds straightforward enough, sort of like a page ripped from The Canterbury Tales by way of Wes Craven. The trailer contains the requisite flashy cuts, pithy one liners, blue tinted gothic imagery and industrial music cues, considering the subject matter. But as we begin to connect the dots, the evidence propels me to some serious concerns.

Ron Pearlman is a respected actor who is enjoying a career renaissance as of late, thanks to the success of the Hellboy films and his great work on FX channel’s Sons of Anarchy. Based on the latter alone, I’ll consider his presence here a plus. On the other hand, director Dominic Sena is responsible for such recent unpleasantness as Whiteout, Gone in 60 Seconds and Swordfish – a film that I’d rate alongside taking the LSAT in terms of enjoyment. Writer Bragi Schut has never written a major screenplay before - and though you do have to start somewhere, I wonder if being given a big budget period film for your first assignment isn’t a bit like entering the NFL draft in your sophomore year. And the trailer, while effective enough, is also somewhat unexceptional and derivative. Rather than filling me with anticipation to see this film, I feel as though I should expect a bigger budget version of Prince of Theives, only with Nicholas Cage sounding like an Englishman from Southern California rather than Kevin Costner sounding like an Englishman from Southern California.

But I believe in giving everything a fair shot – I’d have had similar reservations about Underworld, for example, and despite it being a thoroughly ridiculous movie I still enjoy it very much! Cage didn’t bother with an accent in Lord of War either, yet I liked the film, for the most part. I shouldn’t have loved The Rock, but I did. Later, I felt guilty for enjoying Con Air - where Cage played essentially the same guy but with a chip on his shoulder, greasy hair and a tank top – but I absolutely did. Like all of those movies, when I
"connect the dots" on Season of the Witch, I come up with a picture that’s a little hard to take seriously. But sometimes the inability to take a film seriously is precisely what makes it enjoyable, and Cage seems to excel in these kinds of roles. When the characters in a film seem dimly aware that everything happening to them is preposterous and derivative it’s easy to feel as though you’re being let in on the joke, and sometimes that means you’re more likely to have fun. So if Season of the Witch accepts itself for what it certainly appears to be, the audience just might be willing to do the same. However, if it tries too hard to make us believe in what we’re seeing, The Season of the Witch may be over before anyone has a chance to find out what it is. (Bruce Hall/BOP)

Vital statistics for Season of the Witch
Main Cast Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman
Supporting Cast Stephen Campbell Moore, Robert Sheehan, Claire Foy, Ulrich Thomsen, Stephen Graham, Christopher Lee
Director Dominic Sena
Screenwriter Bragi Schut
Distributor Lionsgate
Official Site
Rating PG-13
Running Time 95 minutes
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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