I Survived the Season of the Witch

And only a few of the audience with which I saw it on Sunday can rightfully claim that. A young couple walked out after only half an hour, starting a chain reaction. An old couple followed the younger one fifteen minutes later, after a burial scene for one of the party members which I found more laughable than offensive, then a guy huffed loudly enough for six people left in the theater to hear and stomped his way right into the cold of Dallas’s (apparently) annual snowy day. I made it through and want my t-shirt.

Sunday was a bleak day, meteorologically, but hardly as bleak as the trailers for Season of the Witch. What did this audience expect? I can tell you what I did not expect at all, and that is an homage to The Seventh Seal. My brother tempted me into joining him and my dad in a little family outing by claiming that Roger Ebert asserted that Season of the Witch contained many veiled references to Bergman’s cheesy (yeah, it is) classic. My brother also convinced me to brave the hipster d-bag audiences at the local “arty” theater to see Black Swan by saying it was like “The Red Shoes by way of Cronenberg.” It was not.

Neither, of course, does Season of the Witch pay homage to The Seventh Seal in any meaningful sense. A returning crusader with a crisis of faith is the only real link between the two, but Nicholas Cage’s apostate crusader, Behmen, never plays chess with death, though his buddy, Felson (Ron Pearlman, laughing to himself), does head-butt the Devil. The film’s opening sequence shows the unfair trials of presumed witches, a scene that seems determined to employ every possible cliché about the medieval period until we find out that one of the three murdered women really is a witch, and oh shit she just came back to life.

The film then treats the audience to a series of brief fight sequences across the Arabian deserts, as Behmen and Felson discuss who saved whose ass and who will buy the next round of drinks. Even with the anachronistic dialog forgiven, the montage of thirty second fight scenes goes about ninety seconds too long, as the only relevant scene is the one in which Behmen loses his faith after accidentally killing a young woman, apparently the only time it happened in twelve years of rape and pillage. So he and Felson desert, and finding themselves in their home town, are conscripted into delivering a witch (Clair Foy) to a monastery where they can remove her powers and defeat a nasty plague that’s killing everybody, including Christopher Lee in a too-brief cameo.

Nic Cage doesn’t attempt an accent, or a facial expression, or even a vocal inflection, but, somehow, the Cage brand of deadpan still soars over the proverbial top. He struts and poses his way through the movie with an overblown sense of his own space that belies his ludicrously bland recitation of badly written dialogue; and his jowly, gibbletty face renders the whole of his performance even more incongruous. As previously mentioned, I actually had trouble not laughing at a funeral scene in which one of the characters asks what they will do now that another of their members is dead, and Cage turns, hand on his sword, head cocked towards the camera, and says, “let us not allow his sacrifice to be in vain.”

Cage’s performance actually fits; Season of the Witch can’t decide between being genuinely scary or inanely fun; neither can it decide whether to depict the Church as backwards and superstitious or ultimately justified in its zealous pursuit of spiritual evil (it leans towards the latter). Hard to believe that Dominic Sena, director of Kalifornia, made a movie like this, unless, of course, you also know that he made Gone in Sixty Seconds.

Is this the worst movie of the year? So far, it’s only been eleven days, so I couldn’t say. It’s the dumbest fantasy flick of recent vintage not crafted by the Teutonic hands of Uwe Boll. And, I’m certain, it’ll be great for the sort of parties I throw.

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